Can I be arrested for failing a drug test?

Because drug testing is so common, you may wonder whether failing a may land you in jail. The answer depends on two factors: who is requiring the test and what is your employment status.

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Can I be arrested for failing a drug test?

Because drug testing is so common, you may wonder whether failing a may land you in jail. The answer depends on two factors: who is requiring the test and what is your employment status.


Drug testing is increasingly common and can be required by employers, even before being hired for a job. Drug testing may be required if you are on prescription medications. It may be required during a traffic stop. It may be required as a condition of probation. Even high school and middle schools are sometimes requiring it as a condition of participating in extracurricular activities.

Because drug testing is so common, you may wonder whether failing a may land you in jail. The answer depends on two factors: who is requiring the test and what is your employment status. Government and federal jobs typically have very specific standards, whereas private companies may have more relaxed testing policies. Also, pre-employment screens are usually less serious than drug tests performed after you land the job.

What happens if I fail a test in the public job sector?

The procedures for the federal government are linked above, but do not cover department of transportation employees; information for DOT employees is here. If you work for a state agency, you can find information about your state policies by searching for your state name and "medical review officer manual." This will tell you everything you need to know about how tests are performed and exactly what happens an employee fails the test.

What happens if I fail a test in the private job sector?

Testing of employees in the private sector can vary a lot. We provide information about major companies that do and do not conduct drug tests. If the job you're seeking is at a smaller company, the most likely time to encounter a drug test is before you get hired (pre-employment drug screen). If you fail a pre-employment drug screen, it is likely that you simply won't get the job and it'll end at that. Some private companies may be required to report to the Department of Motor Vehicles or the unemployment office, but that should not lead to any consequences for you. A pre-employment drug screen may be the only time you are ever required to submit to a drug test at some private companies.

If you fail a drug test after being hired in the private sector, the most likely consequence is that you lose your job. The employer may also be required to submit this information to the unemployment office, but it shouldn't lead to any legal consequences for you. Times when the consequences can be more serious is if you fail a drug test resulting from a job-related accident or if your company contracts with the government.

What happens if I fail a test for prescription medication?

If you are taking a legally controlled substance and fail a doctor-prescribed drug test, your doctor may be forced to stop prescribing you medication and may also have to consult with a pain management subspecialist if misuse is suspected. It is possible that your insurance company may get involved if they suspect fraud. Since drug screens associated with medical use check for both illicit drug use and confirm prescribed drug use, it is much harder to fool these tests.

What happens if I fail a test while on probation?

If drug testing is a condition of your probation, then a failed drug test can be more serious. If it is your first failed test, you may get off with a warning from your probation officer that goes on your public record. If it is a repeat failure, you are much more likely to have to serve the remainder of your jail sentence.

What happens if I fail a school-administered test?

Because schools at the high school and even middle school levels now routinely administer drug tests to students enrolled in extracurricular activities, you may be wondering what the consequences of failing one of these tests may be. For students who have not been diagnosed with addiction, the consequence may be required counseling and follow-up testing. Students diagnosed with addiction may be referred to a drug treatment program. This is primarily to help the student. Consequences may also include removal from the extracurricular activity or suspension. Law enforcement may be involved, but these are rarer cases.