Drug & Alcohol Testing:

Terminology by SYNLAB Laboratory Services

Terminology as told by SYNLAB Laboratory Services

The world of drug and alcohol testing can be complex, it brings with it a whole glossary of words, terms, acronyms and phrases.

In this blog we are going to simplify and explain some of our most frequently used terminology to ensure you have a clear understanding.

Primary Screen

  • When we talk about a primary screen, we are referring to the type of analysis that takes place. The primary screening of a sample is reported as negative or non-negative and is a quick and cost effective way to identify if a sample requires further analysis.

Confirmation Analysis

  • Confirmation analysis is when a sample is analysed at our laboratory for a further in-depth analysis to confirm a non-negative result. Confirmation analysis takes place using industry Gold Standard techniques and must take place in an accredited laboratory in order to obtain a legally defensible result.

Negative VS Non-Negative Primary Screen

  • SYNLAB Laboratory Services refer to the results of any Primary Screen as negative or non-negative. If a donor obtains a non-negative result this indicates something in the sample has reacted or cross-reacted with the test. At this point we do not know what is present or if something is present at what level; for this reason it is referred to as non-negative. No disciplinary action should be taken until the confirmation analysis result is received from the lab.


  • A negative result could be due to no drug being present or it being present but below the acceptable level for a legally defensible result. It is important to note that whatever the screening result, the confirmation result is the legally defensible result and a negative is a negative.


  • A positive result shows that the sample has the drug and/or metabolites present above the cut off level. A positive result is given following confirmation analysis.  

Certificate of Analysis

  • A certificate of analysis is provided once a confirmation analysis has been performed and provides a positive or negative result. This includes the final report from the laboratory with the result and any appropriate medication interpretations.


  • This is the level used to determine if a drug has been detected or not detected after the sample analysis. Each substance has its own cut-off level and this is determined by the Workplace Testing Guidelines that the laboratory adheres to.


  • Something in the sample which is not related to the drug being tested has reacted with the primary screen causing a non-negative result.

For Cause

  • At SYNLAB Laboratory Services we define ‘For Cause’ as a collection or testing following an accident/incident or if there is reasonable suspicion to think an individual is under the influence of a substance in the workplace. It is important the reason for testing an individual is made clear to them, particularly if the reason is For Cause.

Chain of Custody (CoC)

  • The hard-copy documentation of the journey/process of a sample from its point of collection to its point of archiving after the analysis results have been issued. This documentation is a key resource for drug and alcohol testing and can be used in court to prove that samples have not been tampered with.

Window of detection

  • Window of detection is the time that a drug can be detected in a sample above a specified cut-off for the test being performed. A substance is detectable for a significantly longer time in urine than in saliva.


  • Railway Industry Supplier Qualification Scheme (RISQS) is a qualification scheme for suppliers of products and services throughout the GB rail industry. RISQS is industry-owned and governed, sponsored by a committee of representatives from across the rail industry.


  • The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is the only national accreditation body which has been recognised by the government to assess against internationally agreed standards, organisations that provide certification, testing, inspection and calibration services. This accreditation demonstrates the competency of our laboratory in testing to ensure reliability of the analysis results and delivers confidence in our service.

Along with all of our terminology, you may come across frequently used acronyms for drugs, you can view these here.

If you have any further queries on our most frequently used terminology, please contact us for more information via [email protected] or call us on 01873 856688 to ask one of our highly experienced team of experts a question.

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