More employees falsify drug tests

But study says their bosses are on to them

August 21, 2008|By Leslie Mann | Leslie Mann,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Yes, employees are getting more and more brazen in their efforts to falsify employers' drug tests. But, employers are on to them and their efforts usually fail.

This according to Amitava Dasgupta, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School. After studying this topic for the past few years, he recently presented his findings to members of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry at its annual meeting in Washington.

"I became interested in the ways people cheat when our hospital started drug testing," says Dasgupta. "I went home and called some 800 numbers I found online and found I could buy anything I wanted [to falsify a test] as long as I gave them my credit card number." It's unclear how many products are out there, he says, but new ones are hitting the market all the time.

This industry is a large, underground one with experienced chemists, says Dasgupta. Hand over your money, and they will send you Quick Fizz Detox Tablets for $31.99 or Urine Luck for $35, for example.

In the past, some drug users added household products such as bleach, toilet bowl cleaner or vinegar to their urine. And while buying synthetic urine or urine from drug-free people has been the cheaters' modus operandi for years now, says Dasgupta, the market now includes lots of new products that alter urine, either after they are ingested or have been added to urine samples.

Dasgupta says he is amazed how gullible people can be. "Some people think if you spend all this money - and some of these products cost a lot - they will work," he says. "Not all do. Or, people use them wrong."

Marijuana is the most abused drug, says Dasgupta. Other drugs commonly detected in employee screenings are cocaine, amphetamines, phencyclidine (PCP or "angel dust") and benzodiazepines ("benzos"). Now, employers are reporting more designer drugs such as ecstasy and date-rape drugs such as gamma-hydroxy acid (GHB), says Dasgupta.

Despite the proliferation of new products that help people fake their test results, says Dasgupta, the proportion of positive drug tests by employers is going down nationwide. Typically, employers outsource the testing to laboratories certified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

According to SAMHSA, 42.9 percent of full-time workers are tested for illicit drugs or alcohol during the hiring process. And 29.6 percent of full-time workers are random-drug-tested.

In 2007, 3.8 percent of employer drug test results were positive, compared with 18.1 percent in 1987. "Employees know they will be tested. Employers tell them their places are drug-free," Dasgupta says.

"Medical, defense and airline industries have been testing aggressively for years," says Sue Murphy, manager of the National Human Resources Association in Nashua, N.H. "But now it's common in other industries, too, including construction, utilities and education. Thanks to increased awareness of substance abuse, employers not only screen employees but also do random testing after people are hired." Meanwhile, Dasgupta continues to collect stories of drug abusers who fail to fake it. "The craziest one I've seen so far is a guy who used a catheter to put urine from a drug-free friend into his own bladder before taking a urine test," he says. "He got caught. And he got an infection."

Leslie Mann wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.

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