Negative Drug Tests Not Always a Positive Sign: With Better Education and Improved Testing Methods, Cheaters Are Less Likely to Beat the System

By Zubko, Nick | Behavioral Healthcare, January-February 2011 | Go to article overview

Negative Drug Tests Not Always a Positive Sign: With Better Education and Improved Testing Methods, Cheaters Are Less Likely to Beat the System


Zubko, Nick, Behavioral Healthcare


In the classroom, kids get caught cheating on a test by looking over someone's shoulder. When it comes to a drug test, cheaters get caught because someone is looking over their shoulder. In the United States alone, over 50 million drug tests are administered annually. And just like classmates who "forget" to study, some struggling with addiction are inclined to cheat on a drug test when they already know what the results will be.

In fact, some manner of cheating may occur on 1 to 2 percent of drug tests, according to Bill Current, director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace. That translates to over 1 million phony or adulterated samples every year. However, Current contends that properly administered drug tests remain a valuable tool to combat substance abuse.

"It can be a powerful deterrent to future drug use and a very effective way to identify people who need help," he says. "Once they are discovered, it opens up the opportunity to provide assistance that they might not otherwise be able to accept. But people who are in the throes of drug abuse will do almost anything [to pass]."

For this reason, test administrators must remain vigilant by maintaining appropriate precautions, ensuring test validity, and establishing firm consequences. As they try to improve the process associated with traditional lab-based urine testing, some are incorporating new methodologies such as rapid-result and oral fluid resting.

Tricks of the trade

Today there are countless websites that promise successful cheats for desperate donors. A quick Google search for "how to cheat on a drug test" returns almost 600,000 matches. Despite the apparent variety of elaborate and often bizarre techniques, virtually all cheats are based on three basic approaches: dilution, substitution and adulteration.

Dilution involves drinking large amounts of liquid (usually water) to dilute the drug concentration in a urine sample. While a diluted sample does not automatically mean the individual is a drug user, labs will usually report the specimen as unfit for testing. Some rapid-result urine testing devices even have built-in strips to verify the concentration level of the sample.

Substitution methods are just that-switching the subject's urine with that of someone (or something) else. "There are lots of ways to go about getting a sample for substitution," explains Current. "A person could borrow urine from another person-his wife, a friend or even one of his children. A sample of supposedly clean urine can be purchased online for around $50, while synthetic samples have price ranges that are all over the place."

Some people have resorted to injecting some-one else's urine directly into their bladder, or even using animal urine. Of course, the actual substitution can be problematic. The substitute urine might be dirty, or the container with the substitute urine might break or leak before it can be poured into the collection vial.

With the "adulteration" (or "additive") method, a liquid is added to the specimen after it has been voided. Many household products are purported to mask the presence of drugs in a sample: bleach, vinegar, eye drops, various juices, dish soap, even drain cleaner. And, a variety of commercially available products promise similar results. However, adulteration is difficult, since it requires the donor to smuggle the substance into the bathroom, concealed in clothing or on the body.

But desperate people find ways. Many drug users have heard of the "two pairs of underwear" method for smugglingvials of substitute urine or adulterating agents. By hiding a vial between two pairs of underwear, cheaters claim to get past body searches, even when they must leave their jackets or purses behind. Other would-be cheats suggest the use of prosthetics filled with clean urine or synthetic substitutes, which can then be used to mimic the process of voiding a sample. …

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