What’s The Difference Between an Instant Drug Test and Laboratory Drug Test?


When it’s time to administer a drug test, many questions can come to mind. What type of test is most appropriate for my particular business? Which type of test would provide the best means to obtain testing information? And what is the cost of using an instant drug test versus getting the tests done in a lab? This article will explore both instant and lab drug testing, discuss different options in each category, and show how both types of testing methods each have benefits and pitfalls.


While many instant drug tests are seen as initial screening methods, with lab results being the ultimate indicator of accuracy, many instant drug tests are now compliant with the very same certifications and follow the safety guidelines set for by the C.L.I.A., which ensures that testing meets quality standards for best practices in safety. Drug testing has been proven to decrease employee absenteeism, turnover rates, and increase employee productivity. Furthermore, having a testing program in place discourages employees from abusing drugs, and is also part of keeping operating costs down by avoiding potential risk for employee accidents and worker’s compensation claims. In hospitals and clinics, safety is also an utmost concern with regard to patient care and rehabilitation. Now employers and clinic managers have more options than ever to provide the highest quality drug testing services within their organizations. Let’s have a closer look at both forms of testing.

A Closer Look at Instant Drug Testsoral instant drug test

Instant drug tests are all over the market. They can be found at a local drug store or Walmart, purchased online individually, or in bulk like we do at DTIB. Costs for instant drug tests range from $10-75 for an individual test, and from $2-10 when buying tests in bulk. While not all Instant Drug Tests are created equally, there are many options and methods for testing with instant or very quick results. Instant drug tests can get results from saliva, hair, or urine, and can detect a wide range of substances from alcohol to the latest trend among drug abusers.

Which Test is Best?

Choosing a drug test that adhere to your company’s policies can often depend on the type of work being done. If you are in charge of a rehabilitation unit, you will need a much more comprehensive test that includes testing for specialty drugs that are likely to be abused.

If you own a construction company, it might be enough to do a simple test that covers the major drugs that are abused to ensure that your employees will be able to perform their jobs safely.

Some tests offered at DTIB test for a single drug, such as an alcohol test. In addition to a comprehensive exam for hiring and periodic “No Tolerance” testing, a simple alcohol test can be used to test employees who might be providing cause to suspect substance abuse, or in the event of an accident. Having a strict policy with instant access to a drug test gives a clear message that drug abusers need not apply.

How Do Instant Drug Tests Work?

The most commonly used method of instant drug testing is a urine cup. To take the test, a sample of urine is collected, and the cup is sealed. Results can be read in as little as five minutes by viewing the multi-colored panels on the outside label of the cups. These tests can test for a single drug, or for up to sixteen different types of drugs in the system. Urine Cup tests each have threshold for the amounts of drugs in the system that are tested. When these thresholds are reached, the panel will indicate a positive result for that drug.

While many urine cups are known for not always being accurate, there are options that are high quality tests which are not only CLIA approved, but have produced results that are 99% accurate, such as our thirteen panel and sixteen panel megacup tests.

A Closer Look at Laboratory Drug Testing


How Laboratory Testing Workslab testing service

Laboratory testing is a standard practice for many companies who are onboarding new employees, or testing employees who are returning to the workplace after a leave of absence. Lab specialists collect the samples and provide the results to the employers. While some see drug testing as an invasion of privacy, because tests can reveal medications and other medical conditions which may not interfere with job performance, almost 40% of large companies now use laboratory drug testing because it has shown to improve productivity and provide motivation for employees who are using drugs to get help.

Ordinarily, new hires are given instructions to visit the lab to provide a sample. It is up to the employee to make their way to the lab during business hours. When the employee arrives, they are provided the test, and provide the sample in a controlled environment.

Laboratory Wait Times

In densely populated areas, waiting in line at a laboratory can take hours. Test results can also take longer than the standard 24-hour turnaround, which means potential delays for HR managers who need the results in order to move forward in the hiring process.

Laboratory tests might be worth the wait if the tester needs to verify drug abuse in a court of law, or if a company does not have a dedicated person available to manage testing. However, a standard laboratory testing is a costly practice.

Benefits and Pitfalls

Instant Drug Testing

The benefits of instant drug testing are clear – an employer can instantly test employees on site without requiring they take an additional trip to the lab. Comprehensive instant drug tests like the sixteen-panel tests we offer at DTIB ensure that potential employees and hiring managers make the most of testing time with only one sample needed, and one test to take. The procedure for testing via urine or saliva collection is streamlined due to the ease of having all potential employees easily gathered in one place, versus relying upon each individual to make it into a nearby lab for testing in time for the beginning of group trainings.

Administering testing on-site saves time and money on laboratory testing costs, as instant tests cost much less than laboratory testing, averaging $7 per tests when purchased in bulk versus $30-38 per test at a lab, thereby decreasing the upfront cost of hiring and testing employees.

Laboratory Testing

There are certainly benefits to taking the route of laboratory testing as well. According to an employee who blogs about working at Quest Diagnostics, “…Lab-based testing is the only drug testing method permitted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT). Due to these certifications, lab-based test results provide empirical data to prove accuracy claims. Lab-based testing also provides additional security in knowing non-negative results are tested a second time to confirm the screening result.” This means that if your company or organization must adhere to these guidelines, then using a laboratory is the only possible route for testing. It might not be the most economical route, but the results will be accurate, and proven so with two testings. Testing data from SAMHSA laboratories can be used as evidence in a court of law.

The pitfall of laboratory testing is not just the cost, but the wait time for results – In the case of Quest Diagnostics, it can take up to 24 hours to get the results of a negative test, and up to 72 hours for the results of a non-negative test. Another point to consider is that while most lab tests cover the most commonly abused drugs like amphetamines, barbiturates, opioids, and methamphetamines, an additional test (for an additional fee) is often required to detect specialty drugs like Ecstasy and K2/Spice.

In a Nutshell

If a company requires adherence to SAMHSA testing methods, and is likely to need this information to present as evidence in court, then a laboratory test is the only option. The cost is significantly more, and the time it takes for your employee and your hiring manager to receive the info is much longer, but companies can be assured that the tests administered are done correctly.

If a company adheres to a strict “No Tolerance” policy, and wants the flexibility to manage their own drug testings, then an instant drug test is an excellent choice. Advancements to instant tests ensure 99% accuracy, and provide results in as little as five minutes, saving money and time for the company and the employees.


Is one method of drug testing more accurate than another? It really comes down to that one final percent. With a 99% accuracy rate for instant drug testing, it is hard to believe that a laboratory test is still required by some organizations. However, with guidelines that must be followed by having a second test on file, laboratory tests ensure that the final 1% is there by providing an additional verification for accuracy.

For today’s employers and clinics, instant drug testing offers an efficient and alternative way to get results in as little as five minutes with a single saliva, hair, or urine sample, and provides highly accurate results at a fraction of the cost of traditional lab testing.