If you're subject to drug testing, be cautious about which flu medications you take and when. There are prescribed flu medications that can create a positive drug test result.
2019-2020 has been one of the worst flu seasons in years; the CDC reported 6.4 million flu illnesses and 55,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. as of January 2020. Fortunately, the flu vaccine has worked for many vaccinated this year, but many others are sick and looking to their doctor for help as the symptoms progress.
Some over-the-counter medications, specifically codeine, hydrocodone, and sympathomimetics, have been reported to affect workplace drug tests. Employees and employers both should be aware that these drugs are often prescribed for the flu.
Codeine, used in Tylenol 3 and commonly prescribed to treat a cough or the aches and pains that come with the flu, is an opiate. According to Quest Diagnostics, when codeine enters the body and is metabolized, it changes to morphine. The use of codeine-containing products may result in a positive drug screen for codeine and/or morphine.
Hydrocode is also used to treat pain and as a cough suppressant. Some of the more common prescriptions containing hydrocodone include:
- Lorcet Plus® (containing Acetaminophen, Hydrocodone)
- Lortab® (containing Acetaminophen, Hydrocodone)
- Lortuss HC® (containing Hydrocodone, Phenylephrine)
- Margesic-H® (containing Acetaminophen, Hydrocodone)
- Maxidone® (containing Acetaminophen, Hydrocodone)
- Norco® (containing Acetaminophen, Hydrocodone)
However, hydrocode is also heavily abused and highly addictive. If your doctor has prescribed hydrocodone, take as prescribed and be aware of the potential side effects. This drug will show up on most drug panels.
This is a common myth--sympathomimetics will not typically produce a positive drug test.
Sympathomimetic drugs such as pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, and phenylephrine are common decongestants in over the counter cold and flu medications. According to Quest Diagnostics, sympathomimetics like those listed above will not produce a confirmed, positive drug screen.
While some of these may cause a specimen to initially screen as non-negative, they will not confirm positive in the second step of the GC/MS testing process.
Whichever drug you've been prescribed for flu relief, the best and proactive choice is to keep a copy of the prescription in case of a random drug test. If this does happen, the employee should then share that information with his or her MRO.