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Do Nurses Get Drug Tested?

Are you considering a nursing career and wondering, “Do nurses get drug tested?”

Well, you’re not alone. It’s a common question, and it has a simple answer.

Nursing is a profession where you should expect to undergo drug testing throughout your career.

Unlike many jobs where you might only face a drug test before you get hired, in a nursing role, there are multiple instances where you could be required to take a drug test.

In this guide, we’ll go over the situations where you could face a drug test and we’ll detail which drugs nurses are commonly tested for.

Drug Testing Begins Before You Become A Nurse

Drug Testing Begins Before You Become A Nurse

During your student nursing program, you’ll be expected to pass multiple drug tests.

Each nursing school has its own drug testing policy that you will have to adhere to if you want to remain in the program.

As an example, here are the drug testing requirements of the Purdue University College of Nursing.

Drug testing is required:

  • Before you begin a clinical program
  • Annually
  • When requested by the clinical facility, you are training at
  • If there is reasonable suspicion that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol (reasonable cause testing)

Failing a drug test while you’re participating in a nursing program can lead to you being dismissed from the program.

If you aren’t dismissed outright, you will be expected to submit to clinical evaluation for substance abuse and undergo any recommended treatment at your own expense.

The drug testing policy at the College of Dupage goes further with their consequences for failing a reasonable cause drug screening.

Nursing students failing a drug test will be detained by security until the police arrive and will be reported for public intoxication.

If you enjoy using recreational drugs, nursing isn’t a good career choice for you. Patient safety has to take priority at all times.

What if you’re not a recreational drug user but have concerns over a regular prescription medication that you need to take?

In this case, you’ll have the opportunity to submit details of your prescription, and a medical review officer will determine if the levels detected on your drug test are consistent with legitimate use.

Related Article: Can you be a nurse with a felony conviction?

What Substances Do Nurses Get Drug Tested For?

What Substances Do Nurses Get Drug Tested For?

Nursing students and nurses have to provide a urine sample for drug testing. The sample is tested for:

  • Opiates
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Phencyclidine
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Barbiturates
  • Alcohol
  • Propoxyphene

The sample may also be tested for fentanyl, tramadol, and meperidine.

Additional drugs can be screened for on an extended panel.

Do Nurses Get Drug Tested Before Getting Hired?

A pre-hire drug test is very common in the nursing world.

That’s not to say you’ll definitely be tested for every new job, but it’s very likely.

You could also need to take a drug test if you move to another position within your organization and if you apply for a promotion.

What Other Reasons Make Nurses Get Tested?

As well as drug testing is required prior to being hired, nurses are subject to drug testing in a number of other situations.

The exact requirements for your place of employment will vary, and any drug testing you’re asked to undergo by your employer must be in line with their documented drug testing policy.

Nurses may be drug tested for the following reasons:

  • Random drug tests
  • Reasonable cause drug tests
  • When drugs go missing
  • During the annual physical exam
  • After an accident or incident
  • If a clinical mistake is made or when another action taken by a nurse jeopardizes a patient’s health

Random Drug Tests For Nurses

The majority of healthcare facilities will have a clause in their drug testing policy, which allows for random drug tests.

Even so, many nurses report that random drug testing is rare.

If random drug tests are in force at your workplace, staff members are usually selected by a computer program to eliminate any bias in the selection process.

Testing could be carried out monthly or just a couple of times a year. It all depends on the policy in place.

With random drug tests, you could find yourself selected fairly often or you may never be selected at all.

Reasonable Cause Drug Tests For Nurses

Reasonable cause drug testing is carried out when a nurse is suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol at work.

Grounds for suspicion include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Shaking/tremors
  • Unusual sweating
  • Disheveled appearance
  • Abnormal movement
  • Smelling of drugs or alcohol
  • Unusual clumsiness
  • Out of character aggression or argumentative behavior
  • Inappropriate bursts of laughter
  • Falling asleep
  • Lethargy
  • Inability to focus
  • Paranoia

Anyone observing suspicious behavior in a nurse can report the matter to a supervisor. A nurse could be reported by a coworker, or a patient, or a patient’s family member.

Then, if two supervisors trained in recognizing signs of drug and alcohol intoxication agree that it is reasonable to suspect that an individual is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a test can be ordered.

Read Also: Do Nursing Homes Drug Test?

When Drugs Go Missing

If you’re working in a hospital or clinic, then you could be asked to take a drug test if medications go missing. Stealing medication is known as diverting.

Even if you don’t have direct access to drug storage areas, you could still be under suspicion.

Sometimes, every member of staff on a floor will be tested if drugs go missing in order to find the culprit. Other times, a facility may choose to increase the number of random drug tests they carry out.

During An Annual Physical

Drug testing as part of an annual physical will most likely happen if the exam is part of the employee health insurance program.

When you start work at a new facility, you can ask coworkers what the annual physical exam entails.

Post Accident or Post Incident Drug Testing

Nurses often get injured on the job. Many facilities are chronically short-staffed, leading to tired, stressed, overworked nursing staff.

These conditions make accidents more likely to happen.

Slips and falls happen when nurses are rushing around; moving patients can cause back injuries, and needle sticks happen when there’s a lapse in concentration.

Because on-the-job injuries can result in workers comp claims and other liability issues for employers, it’s fairly common for a drug test to be required in these circumstances if there’s any sign that drug use could have been a factor that caused the accident.

Drug Testing If A Nurse Jeopardizes Patient Health

If a nurse makes a mistake or takes any other careless action that could put or does put a patient’s health at risk, a drug test could be required.

Incorrectly monitoring a patient, being responsible for a patient fall, not carrying out a treatment protocol correctly, or neglecting or abusing a patient are all reasons that a nurse would face disciplinary action.

If drug use was suspected of playing a role in the matter, then a test would be ordered.

What Are The Consequences Of A Nurse Failing A Drug Test?

What Are The Consequences Of A Nurse Failing A Drug Test?

Failing a drug test as a nurse could have serious consequences that go far beyond being fired or not hired.

Failing A Drug Test Because Of Prescription Drug Use

Upon failing a drug test, you will face disciplinary action unless the substance you tested positive for can be explained by your taking a medication that you have a valid prescription for.

If you test positive for opiate painkillers or an amphetamine-based medication, a medical review officer (MRO) will evaluate your test result to determine if the levels detected in your sample are consistent with the amount of medication that would be present if you follow your prescription.

Even with a prescription, being impaired on the job would be grounds for disciplinary action.

Failing A Drug Test Because Of Recreational Drugs

If there is no legitimate reason for drugs to be in your system, you can expect action to be taken against you and your nursing license.

Because the consequences can be very serious, you should seek legal advice from an attorney with experience in medical licensing.

Your employer may ask you to undergo a certain course of action, but you should always seek qualified legal advice no matter what.

Whatever else they may do, employers are legally required to report your positive drug test to your state Board of Nursing (BON).

The BON will then begin an investigation. They may suspend your license while the investigation takes place and you may receive an Administrative Complaint.

An Administrative Complaint is a formal proceeding that could result in the loss of your license and the loss of your job.

To retain your license, your Board of Nursing could ask you to meet with a substance abuse professional (SAP) and submit to regular drug testing over a long period of time at your own expense.

Such drug testing could be a weekly occurrence and last for many years, it all depends on the recommendation of the SAP, who could also insist that you submit to a treatment program, again at your own expense.

Failing A Drug Test When Drugs Are Missing

If your drug test was in connection with missing medication, they could give you the opportunity to go through your Board of Nursing’s Diversion program, which will cost you thousands of dollars and last about 3 years.

Alternatively, your board can choose disciplinary proceedings instead.

Additionally, you could face criminal charges over the missing drugs. Diverting medication is a felony offense.

Failing a pre-hire drug test could also result in a report to your Board of Nursing and an investigation and action against your license.

Related: Can You Take A Drug Test While On Your Period?

Frequent-Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Happens If You Fail A Drug Test As A Nurse?

How Often Do Nurses Get Drug Test-ed?

Usually, a drug test is required before starting a new nursing job. Drug tests can also be carried out randomly, during an annual physical, when drugs go missing, after an accident, when a mistake has put patient health in danger, and if a nurse is suspected of being under the influence of drugs while at work.

What Happens If You Fail A Drug Test As A Nurse?

Failing a drug test could lead to the loss of your nursing license after an investigation by your state Board of Nursing. You will face losing your job unless you are given the opportunity to enter a drug treatment program and undergo regular drug testing at your own expense.


Nursing is a career with incredibly high standards.

Do nurses get drug tested? Yes, often.

As a licensed medical professional lives are in your hands, and healthcare facilities and licensing boards take drug use very seriously.

You can expect to be tested throughout nursing school, when you apply for jobs, randomly, during your physical, when drugs go missing, when a patient is harmed, and if you appear to be intoxicated at work.

Failing a drug test can result in the loss of your job and the loss of your nursing license.

Recommended Reading: CNA Program Drug Test Policies.