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Drug Testing While On Cold Medications

It’s that time of year again when the temperatures cool down in the northern hemisphere. As we leave the heat of summer behind us for this year, it is welcomed with open arms by some who appreciate the changes that are brought by the natural adjustment. Many are inspired to spend extra time outdoors because it’s more comfortable and they enjoy being surrounded by the transition of colors that Mother Nature provides during the changing of the seasons.

Albeit, not everyone can get into the excitement of the cooler season, some for good reasons too. Take health, for example, cooler temps don’t always mean better health. In fact, you may notice that some people are suffering from nasal congestion due to cold symptoms, hay fever, or other upper respiratory allergy symptoms during this season. Those of us who have this problem are coaxed into taking something to relieve the ailment. Personally, I don’t like taking anything that’s going to make me drowsy, especially if I am heading to work. In my experience, feeling drowsy makes a long day go by slower.

If you understand what I’m talking about, chances are you keep up with which “over the counter” (OTC) products can be taken when. That knowledge also helps when it’s time for a drug test. Knowing what not to take (or what you took) before the drug test will help you skip over any chances of getting a false positive. It’s obvious you don’t want to fail a drug test, but even those who don’t do drugs still have a chance of not passing it simply by having normal everyday medicine in their body.

So to help you avoid getting a false positive on your next drug test, I have put together a small list of the common OTC cough, cold & flu, and nasal symptom pain relief medications that could be a problem for you and explain why. It’s a good idea to inform your administrator or employer prior to taking the test so they can rule out the false positives if any (depending on their cutoff levels). If the amount of medication is below the cutoff levels, they most likely won’t even be an issue. However, should you fail, ask them if they would do a confirmation test. According to the Journal of Analytic Toxicology, there are error rates of 5 to 14 percent on the initial tests due to non-prescription medications.

Just to be clear, neither I nor Rapid Detect, Inc is saying these brands and products are bad. Obviously, you can overdose on any medication if more than the recommended dosage is taken within a time period. We highly advise you to consult with your physician before taking any medications. We are just pointing out that some of the ingredients used in making these products can prevent you from passing your test.

  • Advil contains Ibuprofen in which can cause false positives for Marijuana. If you take more than the recommended dose per instructions or your doctor, it might send up a red flag.
  • NEW_iscreen_1pBayer Select Maximum Strength Sinus Pain Relief Caplets has been known to cause false positives for Amphetamines while its sister product, Bayer Select Pain Relief Formula could cause false positives for Marijuana if you were to take the iScreen Marijuana Single Panel drug test.
  • Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) has a common antihistamine that happens to cause some drowsiness and possibly a false positive for Benzodiazepines or PCP. However, a confirmation test would prove your innocence if your administrator or employer has any doubts.
  • Claritin has the active ingredient Loratadine and Pseudoephedrine Sulfate making the test show false positives for Morphine, Methamphetamines, or Ecstasy if you take more than the recommended dosage.
  • Mucinex DM contains two key ingredients: dextromethorphan and guaifenesin. Dextromethorphan can cause you to get a false positive for Heroin, Opiates, Morphine on a drug test. Guaifenesin is an expectorant that helps thin and loosens mucus in the lungs, making it easier to cough up the mucus. Mucinex-D extended release tablets contain a combination of guaifenesin and pseudoephedrine (commonly referred to as Sudafed). This is a stimulant that decongests stuffy noses and sinuses by constricting the blood vessels that could show up as an amphetamine when you test for drugs.
  • Nasal Sprays (Vicks inhaler, Afrin) on the market today can cause false positives for Amphetamines or Ecstasy. Again, tell your administrator before you take the drug test to avoid possible confusion.
  • icup_blue_rdi_logo2Tavist D consists of multiple generic medications including Phenylpropanolamine making it possible to test positive for Methamphetamine or Ecstasy on a drug test like the iCup Drug Screen 13 panel we have available on our website.
  • Tylenol (Acetaminophen) with Codeine, without a doubt, shows up positive for Codeine. However, Tylenol 3 and Tylenol 4 will both show up as Opiates while Tylenol Cold has shown to cause false positives for Amphetamines. Another interesting fact is that if you take Tylenol Simply Sleeps before taking a drug test, chances are that you could show positive for PCP because of the Diphenhydramine. Finally, Tylenol Sinus along with Tylenol Sinus Gelcaps Maximum Strength will show up as false positives for Amphetamines.
  • Vicks Inhaler’s (found over the counter) is designed to relieve nasal congestion along with allergies. While they are completely safe, there is an ingredient, called L-Methamphetamine, which will result in positive for Methamphetamine use on a drug test. With that being said, Vicks Nasal Spray can also cause false positives for Methamphetamine or Ecstasy. Vicks Cough Syrup and Vicks Formula 44M are both very useful but could cause false positives for Opiates. Vicks Nyquil contains pseudoephedrine which can show positive as an amphetamine.

One more thing to be concerned about if you take cough syrup of any kind: most liquid medicines that prevent coughing will contain a limited amount of alcohol. If you get tested for alcohol, it could show up depending on the time between you taking the medicine and the drug screen. Alcohol is often a major component of cough syrups and other OTC medications, so it may be a good idea to keep aware of how much alcohol your medications actually do contain. Unfortunately, the laws against driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) cannot distinguish between blood alcohol content (BAC) that comes from drinking alcoholic beverages or from medications. It’s all the same to an Alco-Screen 02 test and in the eyes of the law. Alarmingly, here’s a list of the most commonly used OTC medicines with their alcohol percentage:

Benedryl – 14.0%Benedryl Decongestant – 5.0%Benylin – 5.0%Benylin DM – 5.0%

Expectorant – 4.7%

Codimal DM – 4.0%

Coltrex – 4.5%

Coltrex Expectorant – 4.7%

Contact Severe Cold – 25.0%

Contrex – 20.0%

Daycare – 10.0%

Dimetapp – 2.3%

Dimetane Decongestant – 2.3%

Dr. Drake’s – 2.3%

Dristan Cough – 12.0%

Dristan Ultra – 25.0%

Endotussin NN – 4.0%

Formula 44 Cough – 10.0%

Formula 44 D – 20.0%


Halls – 22.0%Head & Chest – 5.0%Mercodol w/ Decaprin – 5.0%Night Relief – 25.0%

Nortussin – 3.5%

Nyquil – 10.0%

Quiet Nite – 25.0%

Robitussin – 3.5

Robitussin AC – 3.5%

Robitussin CF – 1.4%

Robitussin DAC – 1.4%

Robitussin DM – 1.4%

Robitussin PE – 1.4%

Sudafed Cough Syrup – 2.4%

Tolu-Sed – 10.0%

Tolu-Sed DM – 10.0%

Vicks Cough – 5.0%


If you prefer, ask your pharmacist or physician about alcohol-free cough medicine as an alternative. They will be able to provide you with more detailed information and suggestions. For your convenience, we have listed some of the most common non-alcoholic cough medicines.

ActifedActifed-CAlupent SyrupChloraseptic



Efficol Cough

Hycodan Syrup

Hycomine Syrup



Naldecon Syrup

Naldecon DX Adult




Sudafed Plus

Triaminic DM

Triaminic Cough and Cold



Vistaril Suspension



We can’t stress enough how important it is that you keep a record of any such medications that may affect your next drug screen. I suggest that you write a list of any medications you are taking prior to providing a sample specimen. That list may serve as a useful reminder should an explanation be required. However, if you need verification, be sure to ask for confirmation by Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS). This test is more expensive and you may have to pay for it yourself, but it will confirm or dispute false positives with extreme accuracy.

As the colder season approaches, it will be tempting to take just about any medication that will clear up our sinuses and lungs. There are things that work in moderation, but we can over do it if we aren’t careful. It’s easy when our chests are hurting from all the coughing to just down something that will numb the pain so we can sleep, but is it really worth it? From an employer’s standpoint, if you were in a workplace accident and had to be drug tested, how would the results show if you spent the night before constantly taking OTC cold & flu medicine(s)? Would it be better to take something that didn’t have alcohol? Did you take too much of the medicine that has Ibuprofen? Believe it or not, it all adds up.  You can always visit our website for more information on any of our products at



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