Magazine article Corrections Forum

Drug Testing Gone Bad

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Drug Testing Gone Bad

Article excerpt

Drug testing, despite all the precautions taken, is not always 100 percent accurate. There are too many ways to foil the technology as well as fool the test-givers. Despite new technology that has eliminated many of the hazards of inaccurate drug testing, there are always those inmates who find ways to "beat the system" in urine testing. Other factors also independently influence the reliability of drug testing. Blood and urine testing, however, still remain the "gold standard" of drug testing, despite their inconsistencies and intrusiveness.

Some testing laboratories are less than trustworthy. Labs are subject to virtually no regulations, and regrettably a number of labs are run by second-rate operators. False positives often come from many over-the-counter and prescription medications, poppy seeds in dinner rolls, and even natural body enzymes. Nasal decongestants can also cause false positives for amphetamines, and any medicine containing ibuprofen cause false positives for marijuana, and some antibiotics can cause false positives for cocaine. Some testing methods are imprecise and are thus responsible for false positives. Confirmation tests do not always alleviate the problem of false positives because they are performed on the same specimen that the first test was based on-the confirmation test, therefore, could not discover that the specimen had mistakenly been switched at the lab, for example.

Types of Errors

Human-, equipment- and specimen-related errors are also responsible for many false positives. In terms of human errors, lab employees may be poorly trained, overworked, pressured to work . faster, or take shortcuts in testing methods. Equipment-related errors refer to improperly calibrated equipment; cheap, outdated or defective reagents; improper equipment operation; poor maintenance, leading to equipment failure; and failures in optics, fans or heaters, all vital internal equipment components. Improper specimen collection, insufficient amount of specimen, wrong preservative, wrong label on specimen container, bacterial contamination and growth in specimen are all errors relevant to specimens.

Compared with employees or others tested for drugs on the outside, drug-free inmates have the most to lose from inaccurate drug testing. A positive result can force them to lose a work-release job, cost them accumulated good time, hurt their chances for parole, and may even result in transfer to a more secure facility. Not to mention that inaccurate test results destroy inmates' confidence in the system, and many have no recourse to counter faulty test results.

Some states allow inmates who have tested positive and are adamant that the test was inaccurate to pay for another test at their own expense at an outside lab.

In an Instant

Texas prison officials are considering a new form of urine testing for the tens of thousands of urinalyses they perform each year on inmates. The new drug test provides immediate results. Inmates will urinate into the cup, put on the lid, shake it, and see the result in the cup with chemically sensitive material that changes color. This test lessens arguments over results because they are available immediately, and can be sent to an independent lab for verification when necessary. An immediate positive result is hard for many inmates to deny, notes Mike Ward in "Officials, parolees see positives in new drug testing protocol," Austin American-Statesman, 6/25/2007.

Several Studies

Recent studies yield interesting data on accuracy of drug screening.

The Journal of Analytical Toxicology published a 2006 study that compared the Instant-View Test Card with the OnTrak TesTcup Pro 5. It compared the onsite testing devices' ability to discriminate negative from positive urine samples for cannabinoids, cocaine metabolite, opiates, amphetamines and benzodiazepines. The two devices were evaluated in a precision study with fortified urine samples and in a clinical study with samples submitted for forensic urine drug testing. …

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