Opioid testing looks for the presence of opioids in urine, blood, or saliva. Opioids are powerful drugs that are used to relieve pain. They are often prescribed to help treat serious injuries or illnesses. In addition to reducing pain, opioids can also increase feelings of pleasure and well-being. Once an opioid dose wears off, it’s natural to want those feelings to return. So even using opioids as prescribed by a doctor can lead to dependence and addiction.
The terms “opioids” and “opiates” are often used in the same way. An opiate is a type of opioid that comes naturally from the opium poppy plant. Opiates include the medicines codeine and morphine, as well as the illegal drug heroin. Other opioids are synthetic (man-made) or part synthetic (part natural and part man-made). Both types are designed to produce effects similar to a naturally occurring opiate. These types of opioids include:
- Oxycodone (OxyContin®)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin®)
- Fentanyl. Drug dealers sometimes add fentanyl to heroin. This combination of drugs is especially dangerous.
Opioids are often misused, leading to overdoses and death. In the United States, tens of thousands of people die every year from opioid overdoses. Opioid testing can help prevent or treat addiction before it becomes dangerous.
Other names: opioid screening, opiate screening, opiate testing
What is it used for?
Opioid testing is often used to monitor people who are taking prescription opioids. The test helps ensure you are taking the right amount of medicine.
Opioid testing may also be included as part of an overall drug screening. These screenings test for a variety of drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, as well as opioids. Drug screenings may be used for:
- Employment. Employers may test you before and/or after hiring to check for on-the-job drug use.
- Legal or forensic purposes. Testing may be part of a criminal or motor vehicle accident investigation. Drug screening may also be ordered as part of a court case.
Why do I need opioid testing?
You may need opioid testing if you are currently taking prescription opioids to treat chronic pain or another medical condition. The tests can tell if you are taking more medicine than you should, which can be a sign of addiction.
You may also be asked to take a drug screening, which includes tests for opioids, as a condition of your employment or as part of a police investigation or court case.
Your health care provider may also order opioid testing if you have symptoms of opioid abuse or overdose. Symptoms may start as lifestyle changes, such as:
- Lack of hygiene
- Isolation from family and friends
- Stealing from family, friends, or businesses
- Financial difficulties
If opioid abuse continues, physical symptoms may include:
- Slowed or slurred speech
- Difficulty breathing
- Dilated or small pupils
- Nausea and vomiting
- Changes in blood pressure or heart rhythm
What happens during an opioid test?
Most opioid tests require that you give a urine sample. You will be given instructions to provide a “clean catch” sample. During a clean catch urine test, you will:
- Wash your hands
- Clean your genital area with a cleansing pad given to you by your provider. Men should wipe the tip of their penis. Women should open their labia and clean from front to back.
- Start to urinate into the toilet.
- Move the collection container under your urine stream.
- Pass at least an ounce or two of urine into the container, which should have markings to indicate the amounts.
- Finish urinating into the toilet.
- Return the sample container to the lab technician or health care provider.
In certain instances, a medical technician or other staff member may need to be present while you provide your sample.
Other opioid tests require you to give samples of your blood or saliva.
During a blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
During a saliva test:
- A health care provider will use a swab or absorbent pad to collect saliva from the inside of your cheek.
- The swab or pad will stay in your cheek for a few minutes to allow saliva to build up.
Some providers may ask you to spit into a tube, rather than swabbing inside your cheek.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
Be sure to tell the testing provider or your health care provider if you are taking any prescription or over-the-counter medicines. Some of these may cause positive results for opioids. Poppy seeds can also cause a positive opioid result. So you should avoid foods with poppy seeds for up to three days before your test.
Are there any risks to the test?
There are no known risks to having a urine or saliva test. There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
Although physical risks to testing are very small, a positive result on an opioid test may affect other aspects of your life, including your job or the outcome of a court case.
What do the results mean?
If your results are negative, it means no opioids were found in your body, or that you are taking the right amount of opioids for your health condition. But if you have symptoms of opioid abuse, your provider will probably order more tests.
If your results are positive, it may mean that there are opioids in your system. If high levels of opioids are found, it may mean you are taking too much of a prescribed medicine or otherwise abusing drugs. False positives are possible, so your health care provider may order more tests to confirm a positive result.
Is there anything else I need to know about opioid testing?
If your results show unhealthy opioid levels, it’s important to get treatment. Opioid addiction can be deadly.
If you are being treated for chronic pain, work with your health care provider to find ways to manage pain that don’t include opioids. Treatments for anyone who is abusing opioids may include:
- Rehabilitation programs on an inpatient or outpatient basis
- Ongoing psychological counseling
- Support groups