Skip to main content

  Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve put together a list of frequently asked questions to provide you with more information about drug and alcohol testing.  If we haven’t answered your query, please contact Sonic Commercial Pathology.

Download your drug and alcohol brochure

Everything you need to know about drug and alcohol testing.

I have to get a test – what happens and how?

You will be greeted by our collector, asked for photo ID and given an information sheet to read outlining the collection process.

You will be asked for consent for the requested test before your sample is collected.

Oral fluid: a simple swab placed in the mouth until an indication on the end changes colour.

Urine collections: Depending on the testing requirements this may be supervised nearby, in the presence of, or directly witnessed by the collector and should be clarified beforehand.

Instant or on-site testing: both urine and oral fluid can be tested in this way where the oral fluid swab or urine sample is placed into a testing kit and results displayed minutes later. If the sample is negative the form is completed and sent away for formal reporting and the sample is discarded.

In the event that instant testing was not-negative then the sample will be sealed up, placed in tamper evident packaging and sent to the laboratory for further testing.

Laboratory testing: sample will  placed in tamper evident packaging and sent to the laboratory for testing. The results from this test will then be reported back to the person requesting the testing, e.g. your employer.

The on-site or instant testing as well as laboratory initial screening testing is either negative or not-negative - these are also sometimes called ‘requires further testing’ (RFT).

Screening tests are designed to quickly and efficiently identify samples which do not contain specific drugs. The majority of these tests use the size and shape of the drug molecules to detect their presence but this is not a perfect process and there are many other similar drugs, chemicals and diseases that can cause a false result also called a false positive. In order to ensure that no-one misunderstands or is unfairly accused of a ‘positive’ drug test, screening test results can only be reported as further testing required. Some companies use the terms non-negative or not negative instead of further testing required.

These samples are then analysed in the laboratory using additional, highly specialised, confirmatory testing methods and only these results can be reported as positive or detected.

Our services and test information

  • Comprehensive drug and alcohol testing Australia-wide, with over 500 collection rooms available nationally.
  • Fully accredited workplace, post-incident and pre-employment collection and testing services with a fully customisable test list to suit your individual needs.
  • Testing urine &/or oral fluid (saliva) both on-site and in the laboratory depending on your requirements.
  • Using state-of-the-art instrumentation and test methods we can offer testing panels and specialised tests to ensure your policy and regime are up to date with the latest developments in drug misuse. For example we can test for extended opiates like oxycodone and fentanyl or synthetic cannabinoids.

The Australian standards provide a clear basis for what is considered an accredited test whether using urine or oral fluid. (Summarised in Table 1).

Additional tests may be included as required or recommended by various industries or regions. Sonic Healthcare offer options for broader testing where requested (Table 2).

Table 1: Summary of AS/NZS 4308:2008 and AS/NZS 4760:2019 testing options
Test/Drug class Urine Oral Fluid
Amphetamine type substances    
Cannabinoids    (THC only)


Table 2: Additional testing offered by Sonic Healthcare on request
Breath Alcohol LSD Sertraline Zaleplon Methylphenidate
Urine Alcohol Methadone, EDDP (Methadone Metabolite) Buprenorphine Synthetic Cannabinoids (e.g. Kronic, K2, Spice) Oxycodone
Tramadol Ketamine Fentanyl Synthetic Amphetamines (e.g. Flakka, Mephedrone) Quetiapine
Pregabalin Propoxyphene Methaqualone Phencyclidine (PCP) Zolpidem

There are a large number of different drugs in the community, many can be divided into a number of groups or families.

The testing specifically outlined in the Australian Standards covers five of these groups with the option to add extra groups as requested. 

Drug and alcohol testing options


Urine Testing Oral fluid testing On-Site testing Breath Testing
Cannabinoids (marijuana)        
Amphetamine Type Substances
(ecstasy, crystal meth, ice)
(heroin, morphine)
Methadone Metabolite        

In addition, we can screen for a number of non-standard substances including Barbiturates, Oxycodone, Phencyclidine (PCP), Synthetic Cannabinoids and other Opioids.

The use of portable or single use test devices to quickly screen candidates at any suitable location. This testing uses high quality test devices to reliably detect the presence of drug and alcohol in urine and oral fluid quickly.

If a substance is detected in the specimen the result is reported as ‘requires further testing’ and sent to the laboratory for additional, highly specialised, confirmatory testing.

These devices they may detect legal substances that are very similar to drugs of interest (eg. codeine and morphine).  We provide confirmatory testing, expert toxicological advice and appropriate company policies to ensure that action is only initiated when a complete picture is obtained and the response is reasonable.

Typically drug testing is performed on one of two biological fluid – urine and oral fluid (also called saliva).

Both have benefits and drawbacks centred around three aspects:

  1. Ease and invasiveness of collection
  2. Detection window
  3. Evidence, legislation and experience

Oral fluid is considered less invasive and easier to collect but due to physiological differences between people it can be quite challenging to collect sufficient sample from some donors.

Drugs and their metabolites tend to accumulate and stay in the urine longer than they do in the oral fluid which makes them easier to detect accurately but this can also mean they are detected for longer.

In some industries the choice of sample type is mandated by legislation or union agreements. In other industries it can be a good choice to stick to previously proven testing regimes as these can have historical evidence and all parties may have prior experience with the processes and expectations.

There are three main types of sample collection techniques in use for urine collections:
  1. Unsupervised,
  2. Supervised,
  3. Observed.

They are for different purposes and depend upon the client, collection agency and the relevant policies, legislation &/or regulations.

Unsupervised collections are where the donor is given a urine collection jar and comes back with a sample collected. There is no supervision or chain-of-custody process involved. This system is used for standard medical investigations but is not suitable for medico-legal processes and as such is not commonly used for urine drug screening purposes.

Supervised collections are where the donor is formally identified using photo ID or a similar process, their pockets are required to be emptied, any bulky clothing removed and the sample is collected in a controlled situation. This usually involves a collector being nearby or in sight of the donor as well as access to water and other liquids or substances restricted. The collection is intended to be strict but maintain as much privacy for the donor as is possible while ensuring the integrity of the sample. The sample then follows a chain-of-custody process for records and transport as required. This is the minimum level of supervision required under the Australian Standard (AS/NZS 4308:2008) and for most medico-legal testing.

Observed collections are the highest level of supervision and as such, in addition to the requirements of Supervised collections, require the collection staff to witness the urine leaving the urethra and entering the sample collection device. This is the most challenging for donors and collection staff but is often requested as it ensures the most comprehensive chain-of-custody process and may be required under various workplace policies or high risk industry regulations. This is also allowed for under the AS/NZS 4308:2008 urine testing Australian Standard relating to drugs of abuse testing in urine.

Sonic Healthcare offers various options for collection and testing based on the regional requirements of clients. Currently this varies by region:

Unsupervised collections are offered in all regions but are reported with comments stating that results are unsuitable for use for medico-legal purposes.

Supervised collections are offered at specially designated rooms by Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology (QLD & NT), Douglass Hanly Moir (NSW) Southern IML (NSW), Clinipath Pathology (WA), Clinpath Pathology (SA), Capital Pathology (ACT) and DSPL (TAS).

Observed collections are offered at specially designated rooms by Douglass Hanly Moir (NSW), Melbourne Pathology (Vic), Clinipath Pathology (WA) and DSPL (TAS).

It is incumbent upon the donor or requesting authority to ensure when booking or planning to ensure the collection room they specify what is required and attend centres that offer the level of supervision they require.

More information and resources

Within Australia and New Zealand two documents outline the requirements for accreditation of medico-legal and occupational testing: AS/NZS 4308:2008 and AS/NZS 4760:2019 

The independent assessment, accreditation and monitoring of these requirements is undertaken by the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) and anyone can view the current status of accreditation on the NATA website.

For additional drugs or procedures existing outside the scope of these documents organisations can also be accredited under ISO 17025 or ISO 15189.

In February 2019 the new version of the Australian Standard for oral fluid was released to replace the 2006 edition. There are a number of changes that will impact how testing and accreditation will be conducted.

The main changes for workplace testing are:

  1. Lowering of the THC cut-off for screening and confirmation
  2. Inclusion of Oxycodone in the standard
  3. Changes to information recorded at collection
  4. Device verification

This means to comply with the new standard workplace policies, you will need complete independent verified testing and use collection devices that include oxycodone and detect the lower THC cut-off.  Chain-of-custody forms must include additional information regarding consent, reason for testing and information on dispute resolution.