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Toxicology Testing

Toxicology Testing

Medically speaking, a toxicology test or the so-called “tox screen” determines whether there are drugs or other chemicals in a person’s urine, blood, or saliva. It checks for the presence of substances and determines the amount or level a person took in by inhaling, swallowing, injecting, or absorbing through the skin. While it is usually done by testing the individual’s blood, saliva, or urine, some instances may require testing the sweat or screening the contents of the person’s stomach.

According to WebMD, a toxicology test can check for as many as 30 different drugs in one go. Among the most common substances found in regular people are their prescription medicines, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements. However, many people also show tox screen results indicating the presence of alcohol and potent drugs like cocaine and heroin. These drugs usually show up in a tox screen conducted using a person’s urine or saliva sample.

“Not feeling is no replacement for reality. Your problems today are still your problems tomorrow.” – Larry Michael Dredla

Basics Toxicology Testing

A tox screen is commonly conducted to determine the following:

  • Whether or not the person used legal or illegal drugs.
  • The level of substances consumed.
  • In some cases, the frequency of consumption.

Toxicology testing is usually done in four different ways depending on the purpose of the test; medical, employment, forensic analysis, or athletics. Here are the basic reasons why a person may be tested for drugs and substances:

  • Confusion
  • Deliriousness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Panic attacks
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures

These things may be signs that a person is under the influence of drugs or is experiencing an overdose of a certain substance.

Substances Detected by Toxicology Tests

While toxicology tests are usually used as grounds for putting illegal drug users in jail or tying road accidents to drunk driving, some toxicology testing results may not always be precise. However, the chances of a false result come very rarely which is why it remains the main determining factor for law enforcement in drug or alcohol-related cases.

The following are the most common substances that toxicology screening measures:

  • Alcohol, including ethanol and methanol
  • Amphetamines, such as Adderall
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Methadone
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates, including codeine, oxycodone, and heroin
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

Toxicology Tests in Drug Rehabilitation

Treatment and rehabilitation from any kind of addiction—be it drug or alcohol abuse—can only begin at the moment when the person accepts his condition and decides to stay clean. This can only be achieved when medical experts are able to determine the condition.

“I think that the power is the principle. The principle of moving forward, as though you have the confidence to move forward, eventually gives you confidence when you look back and see what you’ve done.” – Robert Downey Jr.

Toxicology tests conducted by medical experts launch the beginning of the rehabilitation period since it brings to light the most pertinent details of the patient’s addiction like the kind of drug he or she is addicted to, the amount consumed, and the frequency of intake. The following chart shows substances measured by a tox screen and the amount of time it can still be detected in the body after intake:

  • Alcohol: 3 to 10 hours
  • Amphetamines: 24 to 48 hours
  • Barbiturates: up to 6 weeks
  • Benzodiazepines: up to 6 weeks with high-level use
  • Cocaine: 2 to 4 days; up to 10 to 22 days with heavy use
  • Codeine: 1 to 2 days
  • Heroin: 1 to 2 days
  • Hydromorphone: 1 to 2 days
  • Methadone: 2 to 3 days
  • Morphine: 1 to 2 days
  • Phencyclidine (PCP): 1 to 8 days
  • Propoxyphene: 6 to 48 hours
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): 6 to 11 weeks with heavy use

Other than the beginning of the period of treatment, toxicology tests may also be conducted during the following situations:

  • Alcohol withdrawal state
  • A change in mental state
  • Analgesic nephropathy or kidney poisoning
  • Complicated alcohol abstinence, including delirium tremens
  • Delirium
  • Dementia
  • Monitoring of drug abuse
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Intentional overdose
  • Seizures
  • Stroke caused by use of cocaine
  • Suspected sexual assault
  • Unconsciousness

Emergency medical situations also often call for additional toxification screen tests, especially if a life—be it the patient’s or another’s—is endangered. The bottom line is, testing the toxicity levels of a person can mean life or death so you should not be afraid to undergo it.

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