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5-Panel Drug Tests: Everything You Need To Know

Image of reagent strips and urine cup for urinalysis for 5-panel drug tests.

Drug testing is often a routine step in the pre-employment screening process — and for a good reason. Drug use on the job can cause accidents, conflicts, and liability issues that could be avoided if companies are able to identify drug use early on.

A 5-panel drug test is a type of drug test employers can use to detect prescription or illicit drugs. Read on to learn how the test works, what it screens for, and drug testing laws that candidates and employers should know. 

What Is A 5-Panel Drug Test?

A 5-panel drug test screens for five types of illegal substances and commonly abused prescription drugs. Typically, a urine sample is collected for the 5-panel drug screening, but sweat, hair, blood, or saliva may also be tested. 

A 5-panel drug test may be used as part of a pre-employment background check, such as for positions regulated by the  Department of Transportation (DOT). However, 5-panel drug tests are not typically used for other regulated industries, such as law enforcement, healthcare, or government, where more in-depth screenings are often required. 

Employers that use 5-panel drug testing can choose to work with a qualified background check provider, like GoodHire, for background checks. This not only helps ensure efficient and accurate testing, but can help employers stay compliant with all federal, state, and local drug testing laws. 

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What Does A 5-Panel Drug Screen Test For?

A 5-panel drug test identifies metabolites in an individual’s system, which are chemicals that remain after your body metabolizes certain substances, such as food or drugs. They typically screen for metabolites linked to the following drug types:

  • Amphetamines, such as ecstasy, crystal meth, or Ritalin
  • Phencyclidine, also called PCP or angel dust
  • Cocaine and crack cocaine
  • Opiates, such heroin, oxycodone, or hydrocodone
  • Marijuana

Although 5-panel tests do not screen for the presence of alcohol, labs may offer an add-on to include alcohol detection. Before using a 5-panel drug test, employers in states where marijuana is decriminalized or legalized should be aware of any local regulations regulating testing for marijuana – especially with rapidly changing legislation. 

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How Far Back Does A 5-panel Drug Test Go? 

How far back a 5-panel drug test can go depends on the type of sample taken, the type of drug used, and the frequency of use. Some types of drugs may have a longer detection period when used frequently. For example, people that smoke marijuana occasionally may have no detectable THC in their system after only a few days. However, in heavy marijuana smokers, THC may be detectable in urine for several weeks. Alcohol can also have an effect on the metabolism of drugs and vary drug detection time frames. 

How Far Back Does A 5-panel urine Test Go? 

Below is an approximate breakdown of how long a drug may be detectable in a urine drug test

SubstanceDetection Time Frame
Amphetamines48 hours
Cocaine2-4 days
Marijuana2-3 days for light smokers; 5 days for moderate smokers; 10 days for daily smokers; up to 28 days for chronic smokers
Opiates2-3 days
Phencyclidine~8 days, or up to 30 days for chronic users

Detection Times For Blood, Saliva, and Hair

The following are estimated time frames that drugs may be detectable in blood, saliva, and hair:

Amphetamines~12 hours24-48 hoursup to 90 days
Cocaine1-2 daysup to 72 hoursup to 90 days
Marijuanaup to 2 weeksup to 24 hoursup to 90 days
Opiatesup to 24 hoursup to 4 daysup to 90 days
Phencyclidine1-4 hours1-3 daysup to 90 days

Understanding The Results Of A 5-Panel Drug Test

The results from a 5-panel drug test are typically ready a few business days after the sample is received by the lab. The final report will show a positive, negative, or inconclusive result for each of the five substances. Here is a closer look at how to read 5-panel drug test results:

  • Positive: If the result shows “positive”, this means that metabolites in the sample exceed the test cutoff concentration, or the amount of a substance that needs to be present to trigger a positive result. It could also mean a “false positive,” which can occur if you have chemicals in your system similar to what the test is designed to detect. For example, some over-the-counter drugs — such as Sudafed or Robitussin — could potentially cause a positive test result. 
  • Negative: A “negative” means that the test did not detect drug use or the substance detected is below the test cutoff level. 
  • Inconclusive: If the result shows “inconclusive,” this means that a result was not found. This can happen if there was a testing error. It can also occur if the sample was watered down or there is a reason to believe the test was faulty. For example, this may happen if a candidate drinks a lot of water or uses another method to dilute their urine to try and pass the test. 

Before pre-employment test results are sent to an employer, they are typically reviewed by a Medical Review Officer (MRO) to confirm positive test results or ensure that it was not a false positive. MROs are licensed physicians who are trained and certified to review and validate lab test results. 

When results are questionable, the MRO may reach out to the candidate to discuss if they have taken any physician-directed prescription drugs or eaten any foods that could affect results. Or, they may order confirmatory testing to rule out a false positive. After the MRO has completed the review, employers are given the positive or negative test certification. At this time, the candidate can choose to dispute the findings or request further explanation of their test results.

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5-Panel Drug Testing Laws To Know

While federal law does not prohibit employer drug testing of candidates and existing employees, employers are still required to stay compliant with federal, state, and local fair hiring practices, which include drug testing regulations. Here is a closer look at the key laws employers may need to know:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act: Under this law, employers are required to ensure that drug tests are administered in a manner that does not discriminate against candidates and employees. The Act also prohibits employers from treating employees differently due to their race, sex, religion, or nationality, including singling out protected classes for drug testing. 
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA protects the rights of persons with disabilities. Under this Act, employers cannot enforce different policies for people recovering from drug abuse who are not currently using drugs. They also cannot punish individuals who have a history of drug abuse or those that have gone through a rehabilitation program. While the Act does not explicitly require employers to provide reasonable accommodation for legal medical cannabis users, more than 20 states currently prohibit discrimination against workers on the basis of their marijuana use. 
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): When employers use a consumer reporting agency (CRA), like GoodHire, to conduct drug screenings as part of a background check, the employer must follow certain regulations. These include providing notice of your intent to conduct a background check, receiving written consent from the candidate, and following the adverse action process should you choose not to hire a candidate due to the results of a drug test. Candidates also have the right to review and dispute errors under the FCRA.
  • State and local laws: States and major cities may have their own drug testing regulations. For example, in some states, employers must make a conditional offer of employment before asking a candidate to take a drug test or may not use a candidate’s refusal to submit to testing as a basis for not hiring. If you are unsure of the laws in your jurisdiction, consider seeking legal counsel before implementing a drug testing program. 
  • Marijuana laws: The legalization and decriminalization of marijuana may have an impact on drug testing guidelines, depending on your state. Some states have already barred employers from making employment decisions solely based on marijuana use. In New York City, for example, employers may not test for marijuana on pre-employment and current employee drug tests, with a few narrow exceptions depending on the nature of the role.. Philadelphia has a similar law in place for pre-employment testing as well. Employers that are unable to perform a 5-panel drug test due to marijuana laws may choose to consider running a 4-panel drug test instead.  


What does a 5-panel drug test screen for?

A 5-panel drug test screens for commonly abused prescription medications and drugs, including amphetamines, phencyclidine, cocaine, opiates, and marijuana.

how far back does a 5-panel drug test go?

Urine lab tests can detect the presence of some drugs from two to 28 days, depending on the substance and frequency of use. Hair samples can detect drugs for up to 90 days, while saliva and blood tests may only be able to detect the presence of drugs for just a few hours or up to a few days, depending on the substance. 

how is a 5-panel drug test conducted?

Urine testing is often the industry standard for conducting drug tests. However, blood, saliva, and hair may also be used for 5-panel drug tests. 

is a 5-panel drug test a urine test?

Yes. 5-panel drug tests are typically conducted using a candidate’s urine sample, however sweat, hair, blood, or saliva may also be tested.

does a 5-panel drug test detect alcohol?

No, a 5-panel drug test does not screen for or detect alcohol. However, if the test taker drinks alcohol, it could affect the results. 

does a 5-panel drug test detect marijuana?

Yes. A 5-panel drug test screen includes marijuana. When conducted using a urine lab test, a 5-panel drug test can detect marijuana for two to three days for light smokers; five days for moderate smokers; 10 days for daily smokers; and up to 28 days for chronic smokers.

will steroids who up on a 5-panel drug test?

No. 5-panel drug tests do not test for steroids. They only test for the presence of amphetamines, phencyclidine, cocaine, opiates, and marijuana.

Get A 5-Panel Drug Test With GoodHire

Drug testing can help employers make informed hiring decisions, while promoting a safer work environment, and mitigating risk. Partnering with a professional employment screening provider, like GoodHire, can streamline the entire background check process, including drug testing, while supporting compliance with applicable federal, state, and local laws. GoodHire offers a suite of drug testing options, including a 5-panel test, with fast, accurate test results verified by a Medical Review Officer. Get started

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

As GoodHire’s managing editor, Sara Korolevich produces educational resources for employers on a variety of employment screening topics, including compliance and screening best practices, and writes about GoodHire’s company and product news. Sara’s experience stems from 20+ years working as a B2C and B2B PR and communications professional.