Drug Testing for Cocaine Use

Drug testing for cocaine and crack cocaine use is often used as part of cocaine prevention and treatment programs. The effectiveness of drug testing for cocaine use is widely debated, so parents and others should learn some of the facts about cocaine drug testing.


Drug testing for cocaine and crack cocaine is meant to tell parents, school administrators, work supervisors, doctors, or drug rehab counselors if a person is using cocaine or crack. A positive result on a drug test for cocaine can help identify a person who needs help with a cocaine problem, but drug testing for cocaine is not always accurate and is controversial.

Testing for cocaine use is done by taking a specimen from a person and then sending it to a lab for results. Some drug tests also provide quick results similar to a home pregnancy test, though positive results should be confirmed by a doctor. The cost of cocaine drug tests vary from a few dollars each to nearly 100 dollars, depending on the type of test and how many drugs it tests for. The specimens that can be used for cocaine drug testing include:

  • Urine, caught in a sterile cup
  • Saliva, gathered with a swab
  • Sweat, collected by a patch
  • Blood, drawn by a professional in a medical setting
  • Vomit, sometimes used in an emergency if a drug overdose is suspected
  • Hair, taken directly from the person's head for best accuracy

With most of these drug testing methods, cocaine can only be detected for 2 to 4 days after it has been used. In heavy cocaine users the drug may be detectable for up to several weeks. Drug testing hair is supposed to test for cocaine use in the past several months, but many experts question the accuracy of this method.

There are many situations where drug testing for cocaine may be done, such as:

  • At school as part of the requirements for participation in sports or other extracurricular activities
  • At a doctor's office or hospital if a person is sick or injured and cocaine or drug use is a suspected factor
  • After an arrest if cocaine use is suspected
  • At work as part of pre-employment screening or ongoing workplace safety procedures
  • At a drug rehab facility as part of treatment for cocaine use or addiction
  • At home if parents choose to drug test their teen

There are many arguments for and against random drug testing for cocaine. Though most agree that drug testing in the workplace, especially in certain industries, is important for safety, and that drug testing can be an effective part of rehab, drug testing in other setting is controversial. Those who argue for random drug testing say it helps to spot someone with a problem so they can get help, and that it gives people, especially teens, an excuse not to use cocaine or other drugs or to come clean if they are using cocaine.

The arguments against random testing for cocaine and other drugs focus on several aspects of random drug testing:

  • The results are not always accurate. Though the tests are usually hard to fool, they do sometimes return false positives and false negatives.
  • They are an invasion of privacy. This is a complex argument because it raises questions about how much privacy a person, especially a minor, is entitled to.
  • People may use drugs that are not detected by the test.
  • The effectiveness of using random drug testing to prevent the use of cocaine and other drugs is questioned by many experts.

Drug testing for cocaine use will continue to be a controversial topic, with individuals and groups left to decide if they think it is appropriate for their situation. For those that choose to use drug testing as part of a cocaine prevention or treatment program, there are a few tips that most experts agree on:

  • Drug testing should generally not be done secretly or against a person's will. This causes a break in trust which can make it harder to get help for the person using drugs, especially in the case of teens being tested by their parents. Instead, if a person is going to be subjected to random drug testing, they should be told that the drug tests will occur, though not when. This knowledge may help discourage the person from using drugs.
  • Drug testing should not be used alone as cocaine prevention or treatment. Ongoing education about avoiding cocaine, counseling for problems that may cause cocaine use, and other interventions should also be used.
  • Drug testing should be used to identify people who need help, not to punish them for drug use.
  • A positive drug test should be followed by a visit to a doctor to confirm the results and talk about the next steps of cocaine addiction treatment.
  • Drug tests should be obtained from a reliable source that protects the privacy of its customers and provides clear instructions for using the test.


U. S. Department of Education, Student Drug-Testing Institute, "Frequently Asked Questions About Student Drug Testing" [online]
U. S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, "Toxicology Screen" [online]
Sharon Levy et.al, Pediatrics journal, PubMed.gov abstracts, "A review of Internet-based home drug-testing products for parents" [online]
National Institute on Drug Abuse, Publications, "Drug Counseling for Cocaine Addiction" [online]
U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Testimony on Federal Workplace Drug-Testing by Edward J. Cone, PhD" [online]

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