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Beat drug test cheaters at their own game

July 21, 2014
by Bill Current
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(First of two parts)

A good, reliable drug test includes a number of essential components, not the least of which is a clean bodily specimen such as a urine sample. If the sample has been collected properly and every measure has been taken to ensure its integrity, chances are the test result will be accurate and reliable. Of course, some people will do almost anything to hide the fact that they have drugs in their system, including cheating on a drug test.

Those who are abusing drugs can get pretty desperate just before a drug test, and the Internet typically serves as the number one source they turn to for help. Just do a search on the phrase “beat the drug test” and countless websites will come up in less than a second. Drug test cheating has become such a common problem that some states have adopted laws making it illegal to produce, sell or use products that will adulterate a urine sample headed for a drug test.

No one knows for sure, but many drug testing experts believe that as many as 10% of all drug test samples are adulterated, switched or tampered with in some manner. Yet, given the levels of substance abuse in the United States and the relatively low positivity rates from drug tests, more cheating may be taking place than anyone realizes.

Stories of would-be cheaters getting caught in the act would be knee-slapping funny if so many real-life examples didn't exist. Ask just about any professional drug test provider and you'll hear some bizarre stories of cheating efforts gone awry. From getting caught trying to sneak a foreign object into a bathroom stall to complaining about a purchased product that didn't perform as promised, these accounts illustrate that drug test cheaters can be their own worst enemies. Drug testing professionals understand this.

“We know people try to cheat on drug tests,” says Scott Taillie, board member of the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) and vice president of marketing and business development for Alere Toxicology, a provider of lab-based and point-of-collection drug testing services for substance use treatment professionals. “What the cheaters fail to realize is that we know what they know, and we're vigilant in our efforts to stay one step ahead of the cheaters.”

Laboratories are effective at distinguishing between a urine sample that is fit for testing and one that is not, and they provide an excellent shield against potential cheating. But many precautions can be taken before a sample reaches the lab, to make cheating on a urine drug test more challenging; I will review these in part two of this article. Additionally, other testing methods such as hair and oral fluid testing are much more difficult to cheat on using traditional cheating methods. Still, the cheating continues.

Common cheating methods

Cheaters have numerous ways to try to pass a drug test, but the various methods typically fall into one of three categories: dilution, substitution and adulteration.

The dilution method requires the user to consume large amounts of liquid prior to voiding a urine sample to be tested for drugs. The liquid is usually water, though any one of several adulteration products can be mixed with water and then consumed, often followed by more water. This is done to dilute the drug concentration in someone's system. And while a water-diluted urine sample does not automatically mean the individual is a drug user, the specimen usually will be reported by a laboratory as unfit for testing.

Many rapid urine screening devices have integrated specimen validity tests to screen for specimen tampering. In the absence of such a screen, test administrators must then either use a separate adulteration screen or send the specimen to a lab if cheating is suspected.

The substitution method is just that: the substituting of one person’s urine with that of someone (or something) else. There are obvious complications with this method. The substitute urine might be dirty, or the container with the substitute urine might break or leak before the urine can be poured into the collection vial. Some people have even resorted to injecting substitute urine directly into their bladder or using the urine of an animal.

With the adulteration or additive method the user adds something to the urine after the specimen has been voided. Common additives include bleach, vinegar, various juices, eye drops, dish soap, and even drain cleaners. A variety of commercial products also claim to interfere specifically with the testing process.

Adulteration requires donors to smuggle some type of additive substance into the bathroom, inside their underclothing or somewhere on their body.

With any of these methods, the Internet may be the source of the cheating products or advice. Many websites offer products that claim to help individuals successfully cheat on a drug test that they have no business passing.

Make your enemy your friend

If you’re in the business of administering drug tests, the many websites offering advice about masking the presence of drugs can be a great resource of invaluable information. You can learn a lot just by reading what they have to say about adulterants, dilution methods and substitution techniques.

Often these websites will have a section devoted to frequently asked questions. Some maintain an ongoing blog. Both sections can be a gold mine for learning the latest tricks people are using to cheat.