To Catch a Cheater: Drug Testing Barriers for Employees

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There is no question that employment-based urine drug testing is here to stay despite the growing popularity of legalization discussions. As the availability of drugs increases, so do the methods of cheating a drug test. With new trends come new ideas, rules and regulations; however, it is important for employers not to overlook some of the problems that have existed with drug testing from inception. Employees cheating drug tests has been an ongoing hurdle in the industry. In fact, a quick Web search of “how to cheat a drug test” yields over a million results. Suggestions ranging from synthetic urine, cleansing agents and prosthetic devices are at an employee’s disposal.

Tips and tricks to adulterating a specimen are also readily available for any inquisitive employee. So what can employers do to ensure the integrity of the testing process is maintained from start to finish? Systematic barriers designed to thin the cheater pool are set in place throughout the entire collection process. Knowing and understanding these barriers is critical for all employers, especially when the first crucial step falls in the hands of the employer.

What Employers Can Do
Companies that require employees to participate in a drug testing program hold the key to ensuring the beginning stages of the drug testing process are not compromised. First and foremost, it is critical to understand that any situation that requires a post-accident or reasonable cause drug test to be performed, employers must ensure that the employee is escorted to the site immediately. Random drug testing does not require that you escort the employee to the collection site. It is highly recommended that employers document the time the employee was notified of the random drug test and the time he or she arrived at the collection site. Documentation will aid in determining if an employee went directly to the collection site after notification of the required test. Additionally, if possible, try to have a supervisor escort the employee to the site for testing. This process removes the opportunity for unsupervised employees to obtain devices or adulterants to cheat the drug test.

The second barrier is at the collection site. Collection site personnel are typically trained using the Department of Transportation’s standard for the collection process. This thorough qualification and proficiency training teaches a collector how to properly conduct a urine collection. This process consists of instructing the employee to remove all heavy outer articles of clothing (e.g. coats sweatshirts, hats, scarves, etc.), to empty pockets of all contents and to wash his or her hands prior to sending the employee into a secure restroom to provide a sample. Once a sample is presented to the collector, he or she will pay close attention to the temperature, odor and visual appearance of the sample. If any of these quality checks are abnormal, a second collection will immediately take place under direct observation.

The final barrier in place to catch employees attempting to cheat a drug test falls on the laboratory’s shoulders. Each sample that is sent to the lab undergoes extensive validity testing to ensure the specimen is human urine. Specific gravity, creatinine, pH and nitrates are all included in the validity panel attached to each drug screen. If any of these categories are abnormal, the laboratory will release a result that indicates an invalid sample, substituted sample or a sample that is inconsistent with normal human urine.
Laboratory results are reviewed by a medical review officer, who is responsible for determining the final result that will be sent to the employer. When there is undeniable evidence indicating that a specimen was adulterated or substituted, the MRO will release the result to the company as a refusal. In some cases, the MRO may cancel a test if it cannot be proven that the specimen was adulterated or substituted due to an invalid result. If this occurs, the MRO will request the employee retest under direct observation with minimum notification.
Although it may seem difficult to prevent an employee from cheating a drug test, it is important to understand that there are three critical barriers to prevent these instances from occurring. As an employer implementing a drug testing program, the barriers begin with you. Ensure that employees are transported directly to the collection site immediately after being informed of a drug test and the chances of a cheater will decrease significantly.

By Ian Cooper, C-SAPA; Adam Hall, C-SAPA; and Brennen Portalski, C-SAPA


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