How Does a Saliva Drug Test Work

Over 70% of overdoses from drugs in 2019 were from opioids. How does this compare to just over 20 years ago? Rates of overdoses are six times higher than they were just a couple of decades ago.

Misuse of prescriptions, as well as the recent rise in synthetic opioids, are leading to more deaths and substance abuse problems. You may have already heard of a urine drug test, but how does a saliva drug test work?

A saliva drug test is starting to catch up to other testing methods. If you want to learn more about oral drug testing, keep reading on.

How Does a Saliva Drug Test Work?

How does an oral drug test work? Essentially, it works in a similar method to a urine drug test. First, the examiner takes a sample from the person and puts it in a testing cube. After an allotment of time, the reviewer reads the results.

A saliva drug test has progressed in recent years. For that reason, it is starting to become more popular for drug testing in rehab clinics, workplaces, and first responders.

Additionally, the testing requirements aren’t extremely invasive. The person administering the test remains in the room with the person.

The inside of the cheek is all that is needed for a swab; it is typically left there for a few minutes to absorb saliva.

Then, the testing sample is secured into a testing canister. After the specified amount of time, the results will show on the side of the testing cube.

How far back does a saliva drug test go?

Not far at all – this isn’t like a COVID-19 PCR test. You only need to swab the inside of someone’s cheek. This means that many people can even administer it themselves.

Substances Tested

Similar to a urine drug test, an oral swab tests for multiple drugs and substances. Some common substances that are tested are:

A mouth drug test uses a multi-panel testing cup. This rivals urine testing measures in assessing multiple illicit drug abuse or misuse of prescribed medication.

The detection time frame is a bit trickier than urine tests. While a urine drug test detects substances from a few days ago, oral swabs are more limited.

There are still a few key factors that go into a substance showing up positive on a test. These instances include when the drug was taken, how much was taken, and the type of test. Additionally, people absorb and metabolize drugs at different rates.

This test is not meant to determine how much of a substance someone has taken. It has thresholds and cut-offs that evaluate if someone has ingested the substance.

Oral swabs detect substances just 30 minutes after use. It can continue detecting illicit substances from 5 hours to 48 hours afterward. If someone has abused this drug more frequently, then that detection window can last longer than two days.

This makes it ideal for people wanting to test someone who is suspected of having abused drugs within a recent time period. Situations in rehabs, detox clinics, probation, and first responders (e.g., police and EMS) benefit from oral swabs.

How accurate is a saliva drug test? They are around 98% accurate, making them a great alternative to urine drug testing.

Pros and Cons

With every drug testing method, there are pros and cons. For example, urine drug testing is widely used, accurate, and inexpensive. Because it is more commonly used in the workplace, there are many different panel options for urine tests.

On the contrary, urine tests fall victim to tampering more than any other testing method. Tampering includes adulteration, dilution, and substitution. A supervisor or medical reviewer typically does not observe the person filling a urine cup for testing.

This means that there is a brief span of time that a person can manipulate the test. Adulteration includes adding a substance to the urine; sometimes this masks a positive detection.

Diluting means trying to flush the substance out of one’s system. This is done either before the test through drinking excessive fluids or adding more fluid to the test.

Finally, substitution is using someone else’s urine. As you can see – there are many ways for a urine test to go awry.

An oral swab test removes a person’s ability to tamper with the sample. The person administering the test remains in the same room throughout the duration of the test. It is also ideal for people who are unable to make it to testing locations.

These tests are often used in remote locations.

It also detects substances shortly after ingestion – this makes it a great tool for responders who suspect drug abuse with accidents. How effective are mouth swab drug tests? It is comparable to urine drug tests in effectiveness and accuracy.

However, oral swabs have some limitations. First, they have a shorter window period for detecting drugs. On average, this window is around two days.


Because oral swabs are a newer form of testing – it is not yet approved by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA is a government branch that regulates drug testing.

Yet, oral swabs are going through testing procedures and it is likely that there will be a form of approval for this route in the future.

Recent Trends

Recently, some analysis has come out that is taking a closer look at drug testing and tampering. Since the late 1980s, positive drug testing rates have dipped from above 10% to under 5%.

However, from 2002 to 2012 self-reports of drug use has increased. There were also discrepancies in self-reported drug use and lab detection. Self-reports were three times higher than what was actually detected.

What is happening here?

Urine drug tests were implemented in the late 1980s for a standardized method of workplace testing. Since then, tampering has notably increased.

What does this mean for the future?

There have been fine-tuning with urine drug screens in the form of inconclusive tests or tamper-proof seals. However, this has opened the door for oral swabs to stake their claim in the market.

Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has monitored traffic incidents for years. More specifically, they looked at drug testing for fatal crashes.

Testing increased substantially from 2007 to 2016 from 25% to 42%. In those fatal crashes and tests, marijuana use had doubled.

Breathalyzers for alcohol are commonplace – but what about other substance abuse?

Unfortunately, because of limitations with on-site testing, there isn’t a lot of studies or statistics on the rates of illicit drug abuse in conjunction with alcohol use.

There are promising results coming from oral swab tests for police officers. Currently, 24 states approved oral specimen testing for DUI instances. Implementation is still a challenge in these states.

More studies and regulations are needed to implement oral swabs for testing for illicit drug use while driving.

10-Panel Saliva Test

12 Panel Now offers reliable and safe saliva tests. The 10-panel drug test mouth swab is one of the more commonly used saliva tests.

As the name suggests, this oral test samples 10 different drugs or substances. Some common substances tested include:

Most of the cut-off marks for these substances are between 10 and 50 ng/mL. Another positive with the testing kits from 12panelnow is that you can read results in just 10 minutes.

For a bulk drug test, you can purchase up to 1,000 oral swabs at a time. If you are wanting buy drug tests in bulk such as urine cups, then you can purchase up to 10,000 cups and testing strips.

Bulk drug test supplies are beneficial because they are budget-friendly and give you plenty of supplies for multiple testing. This is a great option for rehab clinics or industries that frequently perform drug tests.

Saliva Drug Test FAQ

Does it hurt to get a saliva drug test?

No – it shouldn’t hurt at all. This is not the same test used for strep throat or COVID-19 testing. The only part that needs to be swabbed is the inside of someone’s cheek.

Are saliva drug tests expensive?

If you purchase drug tests in bulk, then you can save money. However, because they are not as widely used as urine samples, they are a bit more expensive. If you are looking to purchase another commonly used and inexpensive drug test, check out the 12-panel urine drug test.

Why are oral swabs not federally approved?

There are some FDA approvals in place for quick oral swab tests. However, because it has not completed federal testing, it is not approved. Studies are showing accuracy rates comparable to urine drug tests.

Oral Drug Tests

As you can see – there are many benefits to an oral swab test. How does a saliva drug test work? Hopefully, you can better understand how simple and easy to use these tests are.

Better yet – 12 Panel Now has quick results that are easily read. Check out all of our reliable and accurate drug testing kits on our site, or let one of our professional staff members assist you in purchasing the right kit for your clinic.


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