Film and TV drug and alcohol testing: for talent and crew and what you need to know

Frank Bellwood

Frank Bellwood

on Feb 6, 2023

If you are a Film or TV  Head of Production or Production Coordinator – or someone tasked with booking and organising all stages of a project or shoot from the early stages until completion - where do you even start when commissioning drug and alcohol testing?

It’s no secret TV and film production companies usually have strict drug and alcohol testing policies in place, just like most workplaces – to protect the health and safety of production crew, talent, contestants, and the general public.

There is also a brand, and reputations to protect. We all know that any scandal surrounding drug and alcohol misuse can have catastrophic consequences for the production company as well as for the individuals involved.

 When to test:..

Testing can be carried out on an individual or a group, either in pre-production, at the casting call stage, or in the moment once work has started on set. We can also monitor suspected use between one series and another or between films (if a series franchise).

Typically, producers may want to test an artist for steroids, or check crew aren’t using drugs or drinking on set. In addition, they may be screening contestants or talent in pre-production before the start of a newly commissioned show.

 Tests are most commonly carried out.

  • Pre-production
  • Randomly, during filming
  • With cause/post-accident
  • Return to work monitoring.

Pre-production drug and alcohol testing can help companies..

  • Avoid pauses and shutdowns which can be financially disastrous and potentially cost weeks or months getting logistics in place
  • Avoid issues with talent recruitment which are hard to fill once in place (availability issues)
  • Have ‘clean’ individuals on set (no accidents, clash of personalities, work-flow issues, health & safety issues).

Testing for Steroids within the film and TV industry..

It’s no secret that the misuse of anabolic steroids has rocketed over the past few years. With an increase in TV shows and films requiring peak physical performance of stars and contestants, plus the increasing pressure to ‘look good’ on screen, requests for steroid testing is a trend which isn’t going away.

We have been testing individuals for anabolic steroid misuse since 2013. And while some laboratories choose urine testing, we strongly recommend hair strand tests, which will reveal trends in steroid misuse over a period of seven days to six months, rather than showing if steroids are in their system at that moment. Here we explain the different types of tests and why they would be used:

Types of tests..

Laboratories use different tests depending on the purpose of the test and the detection window required. These include:

 Point of care (POC) testing in pre-production, on set, in studios or on location

We can undertake point-of-care testing anywhere on set in the UK – whether that is at the pre-production stage, during filming or between shows and series. While urine used to be a commonly used and requested test, there are other tests which can be used that are cleaner, and less invasive or embarrassing for the donor.

Cansford prefers to use an oral fluid ‘instant point-of-care’ cube, which has a very short window of detection of up to 48 hours. It’s confirmation ‘in the moment’ but can also be used in conjunction with other testing methods to establish a longer timeframe of drug or alcohol use by the donor.

Hair strand test for screening and monitoring over time

A hair strand test can be used either as a stand-alone option or in conjunction with Point of care testing and is among the most accurate laboratory tests for drugs and alcohol. It is almost impossible to cheat.

The method can be used to detect many drug and alcohol substances (Cansford has an extensive list of analytes), of which the timeframe can be between seven days and six months after their use. Test results also indicate the month in which a donor ingested a substance and can therefore be used to build a ‘picture’ of substance use over time.

Cansford has developed a method over the years which means only a shoelace width of hair is taken from the scalp at the back of the head. The artist and production can be reassured there won’t be any continuity issues with hair and make-up – or picked up by the media or general public - as the hair strand test we do is virtually undetectable.

Nail Testing – for talent and crew

Nail testing for alcohol or drugs offers a sensitive, versatile alternative to hair testing, when the latter is not possible. Like hair testing, nail testing can be used to detect drug and alcohol use across long detection windows. This is approximately between six and 12 months – according to whether the sample is a fingernail or toenail. We take a small sliver of nail, which wouldn’t affect the overall look of the nail or compromise the work of the MUA or costume department.


Cansford also provides this service, to test in the moment alcohol use, which can be used in conjunction with other methods of testing. One method might be to use a breathalyser and a hair sample or with a PEth blood test to determine the window of detection and use over a period of time. The model Cansford uses is Ministry of Justice approved, meaning any test results are legally admissible in court or at a tribunal hearing.

PEth blood test

Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) is an alcohol biomarker and provides the highest sensitivity for the detection of current regular alcohol consumption. PEth testing is particularly effective for detecting chronic and heavy drinking. A PEth test requires only a few drops of blood in the form of ‘dry blood spots’ that are taken for analysis at a laboratory.

Our accreditation..

We’ve been providing drug and alcohol testing for over 25 years and worked with many production companies both large and small. We can also provide bespoke training alongside 1-2-1 support and tutorials. We are UKAS-accredited to the highest standard and our team (and founders) are world-leading experts in their field.

Trusted and Discreet - what companies can expect from us..

  • Privacy and confidentiality from start to finish
  • Strict adherence to GDPR (and NDA’s if required)
  • Professional and discreet service
  • All procedures when testing samples in our lab are anonymised with a barcode. This means individual’s regardless of whether they are artists, cast or crew cannot be identified
  • Fast and accurate sample collection service – between 30 mins to 1 hour at most
  • A 50+ team of collectors ready to travel to any location in the UK
  • Sample collections on set and/or to the individual’s home/hotel/accommodation or production office.

Turn-around-timescales for drug and alcohol samples..

We know that turnaround timescales are important to companies and we are proud to have the fastest sample turn-around-times in the UK, usually three working days on receipt at our lab.

Cansford has 50+ collectors over the UK, who can travel to your production office, artist’s home or to the set or location. We also provide emergency on-the-day or next day testing – regardless of whether it’s one person or a whole cast. And we test samples here in the UK rather sending it overseas unlike our competitors, which means companies won’t wait a week to get a result.

Results to anywhere in the UK, to the set, on location or to your production office..

We send all results by encrypted email or by recorded Royal Mail first class delivery through the post. If it’s urgent, we can also courier the results once they are available, to anywhere in the UK, to the set, on location or to your production office.

 Next steps..

For more information about the drug and alcohol testing services we provide, please call us directly on 029 2010 3047 or email us Our team of scientists are here to help.

Video credit: We star money @Pexels

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Frank Bellwood

Frank Bellwood

Frank Bellwood has years of experience providing bespoke, reliable and cost effective solutions to your workplace drug and alcohol testing needs. He has worked and supported all types of industries, ranging from film and TV to construction and offices, and everything in between.

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