Do Nurses Get Drug Tested? – A Quick Guide

Do nurses get drug tested

Usually, nurses undergo drug testing during the pre-employment phase. Healthcare facilities may perform drug tests randomly or routinely. In most cases of isolated tests, there is suspicion of a nurse either operating impaired or otherwise mishandling federally regulated medication. 

When Is a Drug Test Indicated 

As mentioned above, most healthcare facilities will test nurses before hiring them for a new job position. Some facilities may check nurses regularly from then on out. The frequency can vary from once a month to yearly. That depends on the type of facility and state. 

Other medical centers will test staff randomly for no particular reason at all. This way, nurses don’t have time to prepare for their testing and are less likely to manipulate it. 

Another occasion that warrants a drug test is when a nurse is suspected to be under the influence during work. Repeated inconsistencies of the narcotic count, inability to function properly at work, or patient complaints about not receiving certain medications can be reasons for testing. 

Work accidents are also sometimes reasons to test an employee. 

What Kind of Drug Test Do Nurses Take 

Urine: The 10-panel and alcohol forensic UA(urine analysis) is the most common standardized test for employees. It will detect five prescription drugs and five non-prescription drugs or so-called street drugs. Most hospitals use the five-panel test for financial reasons. The five-panel analysis only tests for five illegal substances. 

Depending on the test, results can be instant or take days and come mostly in the form of a pass or fail. 

Substances tested include amphetamines, opioids, benzodiazepines, cocaine, and cannabis.

However, the test has flaws as well. There has to be a certain amount present to produce a positive result. 

Saliva: This test is the least expensive option. The collector swabs the inside of the cheek area and seals the sample immediately. Therefore, this method of collection allows for the least possibility of tampering with samples. 

The results are immediate but are the least accurate. 

Hair: A hair sample is the most accurate sample. It can detect usage for up to three months. This test is more expensive and can take a long time to result. Therefore, this test is often used for court cases but not so much more routine testing of hospital employees. 

See Also: Why Do Nurses Wear Scrubs? (Interesting Facts)

What Happens When a Nurse Fails a Drug Test 

The consequences vary depending on the circumstances, and if patients involved were harmed. The penalties can be mild from having to pay fines to losing your license. The severity of the situation determines the next steps. 

Usually, the unit manager will follow facility policies and report a positive test to the nursing board in your state. There is also the possibility to self-report. This can sometimes help the situation in that the nurse shows an admission of wrongdoing and shows a willingness to improve.  

The board can then initiate an independent investigation that might take some time. During this process, the board will suspend your license until the investigation is complete.

Often, either the board or your employer offers to enter a treatment program to complete to be eligible for license reinstatement. If the nurse chooses to enter a rehab facility, there is a chance that the board will reinstate his or her license.

Sometimes, the board doesn’t require the nurse to go to treatment but to attend outpatient workshops and test frequently. In this case, the nurse might keep a probationary license. This type of license comes with limitations. 

The unit manager might have to be involved in frequent reporting on the nurse’s progress and work performance. Besides keeping the board informed, there might be other restrictions at work. For example, there is a possibility that the nurse is not allowed to handle narcotic medications and has to have another nurse administer this medication to the patient. 

In the case of non-compliance with the board’s suggestions and offers, the nurse might face a loss of employment and a nursing license

See Also: First Nursing Shift Alone: 13 Tips To Avoid Failure

Do Nursing Students Get Drug Tested

Nursing programs usually test during the admission process. Some nursing programs only check once; others test every year or even randomly. 

Even if students don’t have a license yet, it is important to ensure that they can work and learn safely around patients. During clinicals, nursing students perform skills and administer medication to real people. 

Most nursing programs use urine tests that bring same-day results. 

If you take prescription medications, let them know before the test.

Image: Keng Po Leung/123RF

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