Drug testing used to be an almost unheard of practice, now however, it is well entrenched in society. It is used in most sports and many professions to ensure that people conduct themselves in a fair and safe manner.


Drug testing first appeared in sports during the 1970s to combat cheating. Doping, which is the term specifically used for the use of drugs to enhance sporting performance, has been around for centuries, but it is only recently that authorities have developed ways to stop it.

The word doping is derived from the Dutch word dop, which is an alcohol beverage that Zulu warriors used to take before battle. During the early 1900s doping was in common usage, describing the practice of giving horses drugs to improve performance.

By the 1920s the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) recognized the problem of doping in sports and banned the practice. However, controlling a ban was fraught with problems because at the time it was almost impossible to determine if an athlete had been cheating or not.

It was not until Olympic cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen died in 1960 following the use of amphetamines that pressure was increased to develop tests to identify doping.


The evolution of drug testing

By the 1980s technology had advanced and drug testing in sports became commonplace. It was in 1988 that Ben Johnson tested positive for stanozolol (an anabolic steroid). The 1990s led to some improvements in testing and a corresponding drop in sporting achievements was noticeable – athletes started going slower.

The development of testing methods has resulted in a fall in substance abuse because people know that they are more likely to get caught. There are now many ways to test drugs; urine, blood, hair, sweat and saliva can all be tested for the presence of a wide variety of substances.



Urine tests are one of the most common forms of drug testing. Urine test strips and dip-and-read tests are used for detecting drugs in the urine. Urine tests have been used by doctors for centuries, but it was only in 1964 that Roche (previously Boehringer Mannheim) developed the first Combur test strips.

This technology has advanced considerably, allowing many substances to be detected from a urine sample, but the principle remains the same. Urine tests for the presence of the parent drug or its metabolites.
Saliva / oral fluid tests

Saliva tests have developed rapidly in recent years. They are popular because they can take a non-invasive sample for testing.

When a positive reading is recorded it is usually verified using mass spectrometry (MS) analysis.


Sweat testing

Sweat testing was developed during the mid-1990s. This uses a patch on the skin that gathers a sweat sample. Drugs and metabolites are detected by using a semi-permeable membrane to collect sweat. Substances of large molecular weight, such as some illegal drugs, are trapped in the absorbent pad. These pads can detect cocaine, morphine, synthetic opiates, amphetamines and marijuana.

Sweat samples are tested using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) or liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS).


Hair follicle tests

Hair follicle tests also advanced during the 1990s. Testing involved identifying and measuring drug molecules that have become embedded inside the hair shaft. Hair follicle tests should only analyze the hair shaft and not the external parts to avoid risk of contamination.


Drug testing in the workplace 

Drug testing in the workplace is becoming more common as well. This is because both businesses and employees are starting to appreciate how it can help to build a more productive and safer working environment.

One of the key developments for businesses is that non-invasive drug testing is now widely available. Modern drug testing kits are simple to use and very accurate; businesses no longer need to contract in medical staff to collect blood samples. With a little training a designated member of staff can conduct the urine tests using a testing kit. Sweat and hair samples can be collected for laboratory testing.


Tech makes it easier

Technology is making drug testing easier and faster and this is helping to encourage more businesses to adopt stricter substance guidelines regarding substance abuse. Companies such as www.matrixdiagnostics.co.uk provide businesses with drug testing kits that provide a fast and effective way to quickly test employees.

Technology has allowed many of the processes to be automated, which increases the speed at which tests can be processed and also reduces human error.