Can an Employee Beat a Drug Test?
Alcohol and drug abuse cost the US economy almost $300 billion per year in lost productivity, health care expenditures, crime, and motor vehicle crashes. In certain industries, substance abuse on the job creates serious hazards that put the safety of coworkers and the public at risk. Although private companies aren’t required to perform employee drug screening tests, The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that 84 percent of private employers conduct pre-employment testing and 39 percent conduct random employee drug screening. In order to minimize the possibility of negligent hiring and workplace hazards, many companies implement drug screening programs for new hires and also check on current employees on a regular basis.
Too few companies that do drug testing realize that random drug tests and reasonable suspicion drug tests are actually the two most important and effective drug testing types to deter workplace drug use. Unfortunately, these post-employment drug tests are less utilized by companies than pre-employment drug tests. Employees are less likely to do drugs or deal drugs in the workplace when random drug testing is in place.
Steps: How a Drug Test Works?
1. Select a drug test method
There are a number of methods to collect test specimens including blood, hair, saliva, and urine, but this discussion will focus on urine tests. Standard urine drug testing panels range from five to ten drugs. Drugs tested in a ten panel drug test are cocaine, marijuana, PCP, amphetamines, opiates, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, methadone, propoxyphene, and Quaaludes.
2. Conduct the test
The process begins when the employer presents a “Chain of Custody” form to the applicant or employee. They are instructed to take the form to the most convenient testing facility to produce a specimen. The applicant or employee provides a urine specimen in a restroom with restricted access to water and cleaning agents. The collector prepares the specimen for transport by sealing specimen vials and completing the Custody and Control Form (CCF). The specimen is then shipped to the laboratory for analysis.
3. Analyze the results
Initial testing is performed by immunoassay. Positive screens are confirmed by chromatography combined with mass spectrometry. Results that are still positive are then forwarded on to a Medical Review Officer (MRO) for final results. For this reason, positive screens usually take longer to complete, but you can be sure the results have been analyzed thoroughly.
Ways how applicants and employees beat the test
The potential for an employee to attempt to cheat the system begins as soon as they expect they will be drug tested. An online search for “ways to cheat a drug test” will produce several websites selling everything from miracle elixirs and synthetic urine to substitution devices. Most of these methods are not successful, but there are a few exceptions:
1. Substituting urine
This is the only method of cheating a drug test that has a consistent rate of success. Substituting a urine sample is when the donor provides urine that did not originate from his or her body. This can be accomplished by using synthetic urine or urine from another person. Powdered urine can be purchased online in packets and is mixed with water to form synthetic urine.
The biggest challenge in using substitute urine is keeping the urine at the correct temperature. Providing a trained collector with a cold or hot sample immediately raises a red flag and the facility will require retesting. Chemical pocket warmers are commonly used to keep hidden urine warm
2. Diluting a urine sample
A diluted specimen is a urine sample that has a higher than average water content. The goal when diluting a sample is to minimize the drug levels visible in urine. Even if a drug is detected, it will not be marked as a positive result because there is very little in the sample.
When a test applicant consumes excessive amounts of fluid, accidentally or intentionally, the concentration of urine will become diluted. This will lower drug ratios in the urine. Unfortunately for cheaters, this does not guarantee a negative result. The laboratory usually detects the diluted sample and requires retesting.
Another form of dilution is adding pure water directly to the urine sample. This is the reason many testing laboratories add dye to their toilets and shut off faucets.
3. Adulterating a sample
An adulterated specimen is a urine sample that has been tampered with. Adding certain chemicals to a urine sample will either mask the presence of drugs or interfere with the laboratory equipment. These chemicals are easily detected by the lab, and the specimen will be flagged as adulterated. Common additives used are soap, salt, bleach, and eye drops. Many commercially available oxidizing agents such as nitrites, pyridinium chlorochromate, chromium (VI), iodine, halogens, peroxidase and peroxide are sold under a variety of brand names. These are also easily detectable.
4. Getting past the detection time frame
The length of time any illicit or prescribed drugs stay in a donor’s system will vary. Some applicants may delay the drug testing process to wait for the drugs to clear out from their system. In large part the amount of time it takes for this to occur depends on the person’s physiological makeup including height, weight, body fat, age, current state of health, and exercise frequency. Other considerations include frequency of drug use, quantity of the drug used, and the consistency of drug use prior to the test. The information below can used to estimate the approximate length of time specific drugs will be detectable.
|Amphetamine||1 to 2 days|
|Methamphetamine||1 to 2 days|
|MDMA (Ecstasy)||1 to 2 days|
|Cocaine||2 to 4 days|
|Marijuana||Single use: 2 to 7 days. Prolonged use: up to 2 months|
|Phencyclidine (PCP)||14 days. Prolonged use: up to 30 days|
|Propoxyphene||6 hrs to 2 days|
|Barbiturates||Short Acting: 2 days. Long Acting: up to 3 weeks|
|Benzodiazepines||Occasional use: 3 days. Prolonged use: 4 to 6 weeks|
|Alcohol||1 to 12 hrs|
As it stands, it can be assumed that the majority of drug tests performed can be trusted. Given the resourcefulness of the public and demand to fool the screenings, the testing labs must to be constantly vigilant to maintain the viability of their services. Screening before and during employment is still the best method for keeping your workplace drug free.