Drug Testing with COVID-19: How to maintain a safe, healthy, and successful treatment program

October 23, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021 impacted much of our daily lives, but addiction treatment and testing suffered in ways that have had lasting effects on recovery and court programs alike. Likewise, workplace safety programs suffered drops in testing during the pandemic.

With the increasing cases of Omicron variants over the last few months, what should we expect for drug testing with COVID-19 in 2023 and into 2024?

The Pandemic’s Effects on Drug Testing during COVID-19 in 2020

In 2020, workforces moved from crowded corporate buildings to in-home offices, and lockdown and shelter-in-place orders kept people inside their homes for extended periods, including people with substance use disorders who were in the midst of drug court and treatment programs. As reported cases increased, in-person meetings decreased in hopes of easing the strain on medical facilities.

Drug Testing with COVID-19: Drops in Accountability

But restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 had other consequences: dramatic decreases in drug testing in recovery programs. By the end of March 2020, drug testing had decreased by 70% compared to the same time in 2019, according to the National Institute of Health.

Inversely, drug testing that was performed showed a 35% increase in positivity rates for non-prescription fentanyl. Heroin use also showed a 44% increase in positive test results during the pandemic, further fueling the opioid crisis courts and recovery programs were already battling before the 2020 outbreak.

Increases in Positivity, Increases in Critical Risks

Along with increased fentanyl and heroin positivity rates in drug testing with COVID-19 restrictions in place, co-use of non-prescription fentanyl and other illicit substances dramatically increased.

Increases in Overdoses and Deaths related to the use of fentanyl and stimulants together

These statistics are stunning, but the real danger was the increased risk of fatal and nonfatal overdose during this time. For all of 2020, overdose-related fatalities increased by 11.4%, while nonfatal overdoses experienced an increase of 18.6%, according to ODMAP.

While these increases were most intense in the first several months of the pandemic (May 2020, for example, saw a 42% increase in reported overdoses over 2019 levels), the ripple effect extended well into the next year.

Workplace Drug Testing Trends

Company drug policies also experienced changes in the face of the pandemic, with drops in testing due to the workforce moving into home offices and concerns over urine and saliva collection

While the CDC never established specific protocols for workplace testing, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) offered guidance for companies struggling to determine how to move forward with their programs. These guidelines included:

  • Minimizing contact for testing
  • Reducing strains on local laboratories
  • Extra precautions when working with urine and saliva
  • Offering options that allowed for testing and sample collection at a distance

However, many employers still expressed concerns over collection methods. And sending employees to testing sites was also concerning since it could likewise expose individuals to others infected with COVID-19. These issues were complicated further by scheduling issues with off-site labs and testing facilities. In an August 2020 report by Current Consulting Group, LLC, about one-fourth of companies who participated in the 2020 Employer Drug Testing Survey reported a more than 60% decrease in drug testing, while 60% of companies reported a decline of 41% or greater following the start of the pandemic.

2023 Omicron Variants: A New Concern

In May of 2023, the national state of emergency came to its official end, but reports of new variants are rising, causing concern as we enter another cold and flu season. By mid-August, hospitalizations from new offshoots of the Omicron variant had already increased by 18.8%, with more than 1.4 million new COVID-19 cases reported worldwide between July 31 and August 27 of 2023.

Drug Testing in 2023 with Omicron: What To Expect

While states are unlikely to put restrictions in place to the extent of 2020 levels, there are still concerns over keeping staff healthy and safe with increased cases of COVID-19. Social distancing and additional safety measures could make public gatherings more difficult.

But should we anticipate a similar drop in drug testing with COVID-19 compared to 2020? And will it also come with new increases in risks connected to substance use?

The short answer is yes: we should expect and prepare for at least some impact on drug testing. Even with only minor public safety precautions, in-person drug testing with COVID-19 protocols will likely become more difficult. Urine, saliva, and blood tests all present issues with close contact and possible exposure to body fluids.

In the past, these contact concerns led to reduced and even abandoned testing requirements. And with fewer accountability measures comes decreased workplace safety and a higher risk of overdoses in at-risk individuals.

A Solution to Drug Testing during COVID-19 Concerns

A proven solution during the restrictions of 2020 and 2021 was the PharmChek® Sweat Patch. The Nebraska Supreme Court, for example, introduced the PharmChek Sweat Patch to address the continued need for drug testing and accountability while providing a positive solution for social distancing and public safety recommendations and mandates. As 2023’s cold and flu season brings new concerns, PharmChek® can provide the same benefits for other courts and recovery programs.

Reduced Testing Frequency

With its tamper-evident design, PharmChek® offers a dependable sample collection method that allows the donor to maintain COVID-19-related restrictions while remaining compliant with most recovery plans and drug court mandates. A single patch can collect samples for up to 10 days, minimizing the required contact for application and collection. Other methods often require multiple weekly tests, but PharmChek® reduces in-person observations to every 7 to 10 days.

However, maintaining social distancing and reducing the spread of disease is not the only benefit the PharmChek® Sweat Patch offers.

Less Contact, Less Risk of Exposure

The PharmChek® Drugs of Abuse Sweat Patch provides a cleaner, more sanitary sample collection method that minimizes contact with bodily fluids. Using an absorptive pad, PharmChek® continuously collects insensible sweat during time periods as short as 24 hours or up to 10 days (or longer when paired with the PharmChek® Overlay) and then sent to a screening and confirmatory lab.

The collection does not require invasive procedures or observations, and the whole process, including application and removal, can take less than 30 minutes to complete. And because of this simplified process, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 decreases dramatically. PharmChek® is a simpler, safer, and more reliable method to offer drug testing with COVID-19.

Transform Your COVID-19 Drug Testing Procedures with PharmChek®

It’s simple to introduce the PharmChek® Sweat Patch to your recovery program or drug court. With self-paced online learning, instructor-led training, and certification, you can quickly have designated and trained observers ready to apply and collect the sweat patch.

Step One: Talk with Our Representatives

You’ll have a designated sales rep to help you find the right solutions to your needs for drug testing with COVID-19 restrictions. Our industry-leading customer support and decades of experience make it simple for you to get started.

Contact a Sales Rep Today

Step Two: Certify Your Trained Observers

Our online training modules make it simple to certify trained observers within your program. With gender-indifferent application and collection, you can eliminate frustrating scheduling concerns and still maintain safety and privacy. No more off-site testing facilities or staffing issues.

See Our Training Program

Step Three: Start Using PharmChek®

Once certified, your trained observers are ready to put the PharmChek® Sweat Patch into action. Start using the Sweat Patch to minimize in-person collection requirements, decrease contact concerns, and improve your program’s accountability measures, all while providing court-supported results you can trust.

Questions? Read Our FAQs

Step Four: Continued Education and Training

Our Training Tuesdays give you a chance to talk with experts at PharmChek® and in your field through live roundtable discussions. Sales rep Kimberly Henderson hosts these weekly conversations with professionals, case managers, and experts so you can find solutions to your questions and concerns.

Join Us for Training Tuesdays

No other system provides continued support for drug testing with COVID-19 protocols like PharmChek®. Add this innovative and proven tool to your recovery and court toolbox today to see better results without sacrificing public health and safety.