Whether the Sonic HealthPlus team is onsite, in the clinic, or our doctors are providing advice over the phone, we all use the same terminology when it comes to drug and alcohol testing.

For those who have not previously been exposed to drug and alcohol testing, the jargon can become confusing. The following terms are frequently used when it comes to drug and alcohol testing and it is important both our staff members and clients understand the following terminology.

Negative test

No drugs and/or alcohol was detected in the provided sample

Non-negative test

An instant test when a drug metabolite is detected in an initial test. This does not confirm that drugs are definitely detected. Compliance with the Australian Standard requires that a non-negative drug test must be sent for confirmation testing within a NATA accredited laboratory to confirm the presence of drugs within the specimen.

Positive result

Alcohol – a person can be positive to alcohol testing in two ways:

  1. When blood alcohol concentration is recorded over the level outlined in the workplace policy and procedure.
  2. Through a secondary test with a breathalyser. If an initial breath test delivers a result over 0.000% (or over the companies policy level), a secondary breath alcohol test is completed 20 minutes after the initial test. If this second test registers over 0.000%, or over the company limit, the test is counted as a positive.

A positive drug result can only come from a report provided by a laboratory. It is important to note that a positive test may not mean the use of illicit drugs as medications including painkillers and sleeping tablets can return positive drug test results. In this instance, the report will comment that the drug use is consistent with foodstuffs and/or declared medication. It is recommended for those workplaces that are inexperienced in interpreting drug results to consider the use of an occupational physician to review the results and provide advice.

Confirmation testing

Non-negative results require a sample to be sent for confirmation (GCMS/LCMS) testing in a NATA accredited laboratory. The confirmatory testing can determine drug concentration levels and if the result may be consistent with medications, foodstuffs or illicit drug use.

The original instant urine sample can usually be divided up and sent for testing. Saliva confirmation testing requires a second saliva sample to be sent to the laboratory. The second sample is collected immediately after the instant test result is available.

Medical Reviews

Many of our doctors have completed additional training to allow them to review the results of drug and alcohol testing performed under the following circumstances:

  1. Onsite testing: after a non-negative result, the screener contacts an on-call doctor who can provide preliminary advice on whether a worker can stay onsite based on the tests drug category and medication declaration. The doctor contacts the client with the preliminary advice and provides a short written report. This service is used to reduce the unnecessary removal of workers from worksites for the use of medications that may show up in instant testing (such as anti-inflammatory and cold and flu with codeine).
  2. Confirmatory results interpretation: Once the laboratory (GCMS or LCMS) results become available they are given to the MRO who will then provide advice and perform result interpretations based on the test confirmation.
  3. Interview and rehabilitation: an MRO can be involved with the rehabilitation of workers who may have a substance abuse issue.
  4. MRO services: Many of Sonic HealthPlus doctors have also completed the Medical Review Officer (MRO) course required where testing is undertaken in the air transport environment, and employers are required to comply with the CASA regulations.
Dr Charles Phillis
B.BioMed.Sci, MBBS, MonashCertClinOccMed, RACGP, AAAM, ANZSOMOccupational Medical Practitioner (Sonic HealthPlus), Lecturer (Griffith University Medical School), Clinical Operations Lead (DSP)

Dr Charles Phillis was schooled in Adelaide, South Australia and relocated to the Gold Coast in 2002. He completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science Degree before completing a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in an inaugural Gold Coast Medical Program.

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