May 17, 2005
The Drug Testing Responsibilities of the Division of Workplace Programs
Most of the responsibilities for day-to-day operation and oversight were delegated to what is now the Division of Workplace Programs. SAMHSA is responsible for certifying laboratories that perform accurate reliable forensic drug testing in accordance with the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs.
These Mandatory Guidelines were first published as a Final Notice in the Federal Register on April 11, 1988, and the first 10 laboratories were certified to perform drug testing in December 1988. These Guidelines provide critical support for the overarching Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program that today covers 1.8 million non-military Executive Branch federal employees in 120 Federal agencies. The Guidelines include requirements for the chemical analysis of urine specimens from selected Executive Branch job applicants and employees to determine whether that specimen contained the parent drug or specific metabolic byproducts from marijuana, cocaine, opiates (with the focus on heroin), amphetamines, and phencyclidine.
Even in 1988, based on information from other drug testing programs already in existence, it was known that some non-federal employee specimen donors used household products and chemicals to try to beat the drug test and mask the presence of illicit drugs in their urine. A few examples of commonly used household products used at that time were drain cleaners (sodium hydroxide), vinegar from the kitchen (dilute acetic acid), and soothing eye drops (a dilute salt solution). Since the late 1980's, many more sophisticated products have been developed and marketed by those in business to sell products to illicit drug users to beat their drug test. The increased use of the Internet in the mid-1990's brought an explosion of new products to the marketplace, openly sold for the sole purpose of defeating a drug test.
The Scope of the Federal Agency Workplace Drug Testing Program
Under separate authorities, other Federal Government programs require workplace drug testing using the Mandatory Guideline-certified laboratories for their covered populations, including industries regulated by the Department of Transportation and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There are over 11 million employees and job applicants covered by these federally mandated workplace drug tests.
Many of the same drug testing products and testing procedures are also used for criminal justice testing, school-based student testing, testing in the Uniformed Services, the U.S. Postal Service, and non-federal public and private sector employers, with some portion voluntarily tested under our Mandatory Guidelines. It is estimated that between 20 to 40 million drug tests are performed each year, with the accuracy of many of these test results particularly vulnerable to undetected adulterant use by those being tested.
Adulterants – The Marketplace
These products are primarily focused on beating the drug test for marijuana, since marijuana is America's favorite illicit drug. We know this information by looking at the percentage of U.S. workforce specimens that test positive for marijuana. Using information provided publicly by one very large laboratory drug testing system, of all the specimens that test positive in the general U.S. workforce, 55% test positive for marijuana. Cocaine positive drug tests make up 15% of the total and opiates (focused on heroin) follow with 6% of the total (Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing index, 2004). Millions of employed persons in Federal service and employees of federally regulated private sector companies are drug tested, and their urine specimens must be tested in laboratories certified by SAMHSA.
Monitoring of Adulterant Products
In September 2002, an online Google search of "beat a drug test" revealed 158,000 hits in 0.4 seconds. In May 2005, that same search revealed 1,210,000 hits in 0.21 seconds; a Google search of "pass a drug test" revealed 3,570,000 hits in 0.06 seconds.
We developed and now maintain a spreadsheet of available products by website, in order to track the availability and evolution of these products over time.
Internet Product Advertising and Availability
Concerning marijuana use, the questionnaires ask just how much marijuana he or she uses and how frequent that use is to better advise them on which product to use and how much of that product to use. Advice is given to heavy drug users to use more product to beat the test, compared to light users. Additionally, some advertisements on Internet home pages state that the products work for all toxins and every testing method. They are so confident in the effectiveness of their products that they offer a 200% Money Back Guarantee!
The Types of Adulterants
1. Dilution Products
Efforts to dilute urine include those that add water to a small volume of the donor's urine and natural diuretics to expedite the elimination of urine from the body. Simply trying to dilute the urine internally to reduce the concentration of drug below the testing cut-off can be done by drinking very large quantities of water, on the order of 120 oz of fluid. This is a very effective method of beating the drug test, especially when the donor knows when the drug test specimen will be collected, as in the case of a pre-employment drug test.
2. Cleansing Products
Cleansing products, such as internal colonics, golden seal, psyllium husks, and specially formulated cleansing drinks, are marketed to "cleanse the body of toxins", more specifically in this case, illicit drugs. As an example, one product is advertised as a dietary supplement, guaranteed to "work" in less than an hour. The ingredients label lists very common items in many other drinkable fluids, such as filtered water, fructose, maltodextrin, natural and artificial flavors, citric acid, potassium citrate, potassium benzoate, potassium sorbate, ascorbic acid, red 40, and riboflavin. These cleansing products likely work along the same lines as products advertised to dilute the urine.
3. Chemical Adulterants
Some products are actually very caustic and corrosive chemicals, such as acids and aldehydes, chemical oxidants such as nitrites, chromium VI (a carcinogen), and bleaches. These harsh chemicals must be added to the donor's specimen, which is easily accomplished when the donor is given the privacy of a restroom stall to provide their specimen. These chemicals are purposely sold in easily concealable small vials and tubes, so they can be brought into the collection site bathroom concealed in the donor's socks or underwear.
4. Prosthetic Devices Delivering Synthetic or Drug-free Human Urine
The most cumbersome, yet highly effective, way to beat a urine drug test is to use a physical belt-like device hidden under the clothing which contains a reservoir to unobtrusively hold real human urine from another person that is free from drugs, and deliver that bogus specimen into the collection container through a straw-like tube, or through a prosthetic device that looks like real human anatomy, color-matched. This last described device is heavily marketed for workplace drug testing and criminal justice urine collection situations that require directly observed urine specimens to be provided. Synthetic urine can be used in place of real human drug free urine.
Concerns to the Federal Workplace Drug Testing Program - The Need to Require Specimen Validity Testing and Propose Drug Testing Alternative Specimens
In the late 1990's, it became evident that increasing numbers of federally regulated donor specimens contained chemicals intended to mask or beat the drug test. These compounds were identified through routine drug tests that were conducted but gave unusual and unreasonable chemical results. It then became necessary for SAMHSA to establish general testing criteria and issue guidance to laboratories to ensure more consistent analysis of chemicals added to the urine by donors with the intent of beating the drug test. In 1998, testing criteria and guidance were initially provided to the laboratories in an informal manner, with final comprehensive urine specimen validity testing requirements published in the Federal Register on April 13, 2004. This Notice also required that each and every Federal job applicant or employee urine specimen be tested not only for illicit drugs, but also to determine if the specimen provided is a valid one, i.e., consistent with normal human physiology. These criteria did not solve the problem entirely, because the very nature of some of the products, particularly those that deliver synthetic urine or drug free human urine, produce specimens that actually test negative for illicit and pass specimen validity tests because they are testing drug-free urine. Since the April 13, 2004, publication of SAMHSA's new testing requirements, the advertising for this prosthetic type of device has increased. Additionally, the number of specimens now being reported as "invalid" specimens by laboratories has also increased significantly. This is because the companies who produce and market the chemical masking agents know the chemistry of the specimen validity tests that are now required for Federal employee drug testing (and optional for DOT regulated industry drug testing programs). These firms are formulating new versions of the adulterants so they are not detected by these newly required specimen validity tests.
The Effectiveness of Specimen Validity Testing
In a September 1999 Washington Post newspaper article, a staff writer captured the following interview: "They detect it and we move on," (blank) is an additive that allegedly fools the tests." "Beating the labs is like fighting the federal government – they're so big and slow…..They can't detect the current formula."
One of the most disconcerting calls received by SAMHSA staff was from Perry Nuclear Power Plant located east of Cleveland, Ohio. In September 2002, staff at a drug test collection site at the Plant found evidence in a refuse container from a specific adulterant product. This product contains a small plastic bottle with a temperature indicator strip attached, two small plastic vials of white crystalline material, and instructions for use. Per the instructions, the user adds a microvial of urine to water and the product and mixes to dissolve. In about 30 seconds, the drug-free sample is ready to provide in place of the donor's own specimen. Since it was unclear who or how many applicants used this product, that entire day's applicants were retested, and 9 of them drug-tested positive for marijuana use. If it had not been for the careless discard of the package in a trash can near the collection site, the use of this product to beat the drug test, which was required as part of a pre-employment fitness for duty test in order to gain access to a nuclear reactor, would have gone undetected.
The Effectiveness of the Products
SAMHSA devised an experiment to evaluate how effective some of these masking agents really are. Certified negative urine was "spiked" with marijuana metabolite (THCA, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol-9-carbozylic acid), cocaine metabolite (benzoylecgonine), phencyclidine, opiate metabolite (morphine), and methamphetamine. The concentration of each analyte was twice the screening test cutoff. This standard analytical approach, taken with each substance that was added to the donor's specimen, was applied to more than 30 products purchased.
Several versions of one particular product were tested and found to be able to significantly mask a positive drug test, especially for marijuana and morphine. What is most noteworthy is that each successive version of this product is more effective in masking the drug test. Each version of that product has been somewhat effective in masking the presence of marijuana, cocaine, morphine, phencyclidine, and methamphetamine. The chemical composition of each of these versions also changes, which was pointed out in its marketing as an asset.
One adulterant manufacturer changes their product formula approximately every 6 to 9 months to stay ahead of the drug testing labs. It has openly stated that if a certain formula stays on the market too long, its product would be reverse-engineered by the labs and eventually become detectable. Older formulations are exchanged for a current formulation free of charge.
One product that was purchased in April 2001 contained chromate, an oxidant that became known after it had been used for a time. Another version, which was purchased in April 2002, contained hydrofluoric acid, a powerful acid that can etch glass, and sodium nitrite, a strong oxidant. Again, after a time, this combination became known, and the formulation again changed. A subsequent product, purchased July 2002, was a newly designed system, this time consisting of two vials of chemicals added sequentially to urine in the donor's specimen collection cup. One of the vials contained an iodine-containing compound, the other vial contained hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids. The most recent version of the product is currently available and being evaluated by our staff.
Continued Impact of Adulterants on Public Health and Safety
Unless Stopped, the Next Marketing Opportunity for Adulterant Sales will Target Drug Testing and Specimen Validity of Hair, Oral Fluid, and Sweat
SAMHSA's current knowledge of the myriad of products to beat drug tests has forced the Agency to add specimen validity testing requirements for hair, oral fluid, and sweat in our proposed expanded Federal drug testing program. This is necessary because products are now being marketed and sold to beat any drug test, no matter what specimen is collected.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide this information to you. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Last Revised: July 20, 2005