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Five Critical Things to Know About Sample Collections

Posted on Tuesday, May 23rd, 2023

By Adam Hall, Staff Writer & Editor at Current Consulting Group (CCG)

Click Here to View the Original Article on the CCG Website

Note: This article is provided for educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. The reader retains full responsibility to ensure compliance with all applicable laws relative to drug testing.

It can be argued that every step of the sample collection process is equally as important as the next. While this may be true, certain components of the process are critical in that if they are not understood, or executed properly, it could lead to a test cancelation, retraining, or other repercussions outlined by applicable policies.

Understanding these scenarios is key to a successful sample collection. Most importantly, each state may have different requirements or limitations pertaining to each situation. In this article we will review five critical components of the sample collection process. We will then review examples from various states for each component to develop a clear picture of how states address each situation.

Split Specimen Collections

The term split specimen means that a sample from a single collection event is divided into two separate collection containers, effectively creating a primary and secondary specimen. Although both specimens will travel to the laboratory together, the primary specimen is always tested first. Should the donor challenge the outcome of the primary test, a confirmation test can be performed on the secondary specimen.

Not all sample collections require a sample to be split. This process is commonly associated with urine testing but can be utilized for other testing methods as well. A regular concern with split specimen testing is discerning who is responsible for covering the cost of the secondary test. In most cases, applicable laws and regulations will address how this is handled and identify how these costs are to be covered.

Examples of states that require split specimen collections include Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Many of these state laws directly reference the split specimen rules stipulated in the federal regulations that govern Department of Transportation (DOT)-covered individuals, which require a secondary sample to be of sufficient volume to perform a confirmation test at the donor’s request.

Direct Observation

Direct observation collections require an observer to witness a sample pass from a donor directly into the collection container. This term is also usually associated with urine collections, as this method does not typically default to being directly observed. Instead, direct observation in a urine collection is an additional step triggered by some other reason (e.g., problem collections, policy requirements, etc.). However, saliva and hair collections are always directly observed due to the nature of the collection process for these samples.

Although the direct observation process can be intrusive, it may be a necessary step to obtain a valid specimen. Additionally, state laws cannot supersede collections adhering to federal regulations, however, those laws may differ from state to state for non-federal testing.

There are a few states that prohibit direct observation, such as Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island. The state of Oklahoma is also part of this list; however, language is included that allows direct observation to be performed if there is a reason to believe a donor has substituted or altered a specimen in any way.

Problem Collections

Insufficient volume, out-of-temperature range specimens, possible adulteration, and substitution are the most common forms of problem collections. Regardless of training requirements for collectors, it is extremely important that every collector is well versed in how to handle these various situations when they arise. Company policies, state laws, or other governing rules may dictate what steps are to be taken following a problem collection.

For instance, consider an applicant reporting to a collection facility for a pre-employment hair test. This applicant is bald and does not have enough body hair to conduct a collection. In this example, the collector may report this information to the employer, who will then make a hiring decision, or alternative testing decision, based on the requirements they are responsible for adhering to.

Problem collections often lead to an immediate second collection to be performed under direct observation. As previously mentioned, certain state laws may impact when direct observation is authorized. This is especially applicable to individuals conducting tests that are not required to adhere to federal regulations but instead are limited to applicable state laws.

Collector Qualifications Requirements

Depending on the type of sample collection being performed, a collector may be required to obtain certain qualifications or certification. For example, any urine collection performed on an individual considered to be safety-sensitive as defined by Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations must be DOT-certified to conduct that sample collection. This is accomplished by completing any of the DOT-approved training curriculums and completing five successful mock collections in the presence of an authorized trainer.

In contrast, other non-regulated methods of testing may not require an official certification. Common examples of these methods include saliva and hair testing. In most cases, the laboratory or distributor of these collection materials will provide the necessary training curriculum for successful sample collections. Completion of these training programs will likely provide the trainee with a certificate that shows their competency of the collection process.

Collection Site Integrity

Every sample collection method includes a sequence of steps designed to protect the integrity of the sample. Matching specimen labels, tamper evident containers, and established chain-of-custody requirements are all important to ensuring an accurate test result is obtained. However, integrity is not limited to the collection itself. A collection facility must be equipped properly to ensure the collection process is successful. This may include proper facilities for urine collections or adequate space and materials for saliva and hair collections.

Keep in mind that collection-site integrity is not limited to brick-and-mortar establishments. Performing field-based collections may be a regular occurrence for some employers, especially in industries where remote worksites are common. When a collector is dispatched into the field, it is their responsibility to ensure that the collection area meets all necessary requirements for the type of samples they are collecting.

It is difficult to pin down specific language for any state that directly addresses collection site integrity. Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Wisconsin all reference federal regulations for collection facility requirements, which are widely accepted as the industry standard. Other states, such as Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, and Idaho do not directly reference federal requirements, but they do stipulate that reasonably sanitary conditions must be provided when conducting sample collections.


Although other components of the collection process may be considered critical, the five situations discussed in this article are likely to occur frequently. Additionally, these situations can be addressed differently from state to state. These examples, and how they may differ for each state, reveal the importance of fully understanding the state laws applicable to sample collection procedures.

© 2010-2023 The Current Consulting Group, LLC – No portion of this article may be reproduced, retransmitted, posted on a website, or used in any manner without the written consent of the Current Consulting Group, LLC. When permission is granted to reproduce this article in any way, full attribution to the author and copyright holder is required.

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