Workplace drug testing is on the rise in the United States, thanks in part to new technologies that make testing easier and more affordable than ever. The most common drug tests analyze urine, hair and blood, but collecting these samples can be invasive, and analyzing them can be expensive. Employers are weighing the costs of testing with the costs of safety and efficiency in the workplace as well as the costs and benefits of helping a valued employee to seek help for a substance use problem. Instead, savvy employers are turning to new alternatives that are so advanced and convenient, they wouldn’t be out of place in science fiction.

The following three methods are particularly futuristic. 

Fingerprint test that analyzes sweat

Intelligent Fingerprinting™ is a patented handheld device that delivers results in less than 10 minutes — and that’s not even the most impressive benefit. This test is the least intrusive to date, because test subjects simply have to touch the device briefly. Rather than scanning for traces of blood in a fluid or tissue sample, this fingerprint test actually scans tiny traces of sweat for the metabolites that drug use leaves behind [1] Because each fingerprint is unique, this test even serves to identify each sample immediately, preventing the possibility of mix-ups.

Nail test that detects drugs used months ago

Hair tests first emerged as a viable drug testing option in the 1980s. As hair grows, the bloodstream diffuses certain metabolites into the base of each follicle, where they remain even after months of growth. This makes the hair test especially effective at identifying past drug use, but it requires samples of a certain length, which aren’t always possible to collect. That’s where fingernails and toenails come in. They’re also composed of keratin, the hard protein that makes up human hair, and it can take up months for them to grow from nail bed to tip [2]. Current nail tests can detect ten different types of drugs, even if they were used six whole months ago.

Oral fluid collector that turns blue when it’s ready

Some employers prefer to administer tests on-site, and one new invention is making it much easier to do that. The Oral-Eze® is a simple white stick that you insert into your mouth, where it collects fluids for laboratory analysis[3].  In the past, saliva tests required multiple samples because swabbing didn’t always gather enough fluids for accurate results. The Oral-Eze could change that, thanks to a convenient indicator window that turns blue when the sample is ready. You can even cap and seal the device by yourself, making the process much more hygienic for everyone involved.

It’s no surprise that there’s a market for innovative new testing methods. Quest Diagnostics, a national laboratory company that conducts drug tests for employers, publishes a Drug Testing Index (DTI) every year. The very first DTI revealed that a staggering 13.6 percent of urine samples tested positive for traces of drugs. Two decades later, that number was down to 3.6 percent[4]. However, for the first time in ten years, it’s on the rise: the current rate is 3.7 percent.

According to the DTI, marijuana can be blamed for a large percentage of these positive results. In fact, rates of marijuana detection doubled between 2011 and 2013 alone. As multiple states loosen or remove their restrictions on marijuana use, many employers are reconsidering their marijuana policies. In states like Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana can be purchased legally, the definition of a “drug-free workplace” is especially subjective. But no matter where you live, always be aware of your employer’s specific policies and research their testing method of choice. As new technology makes testing more accurate and accessible, it will become harder and harder to keep substance use of any kind under wraps.