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Drug Testing News

Unregulated drug cleansers raise debate



April 6, 2003

Some teens who shop at health food stores aren't looking for typical items such as soy milk, whole-wheat flour or multivitamins.

They come for products such as Stat and Naturally Klean, shelling out $10 to $30 a bottle to join the thousands of people who purchase drug cleansers each year.

Cindle Brewster says she thinks drug cleansers should be regulated.
Drug cleansers are supplements that claim to allow a drug user to pass a drug test, usually within a four- to five-hour window. The formulas are generally nontoxic herbal pills or drinks.

Drug cleansers are readily available in many health food stores and from numerous Internet sources. ID is seldom required, so they can be purchased with no questions asked. Earlier this year, the Illinois General Assembly considered a bill penalizing anyone found in possession of or using a drug cleanser with a 12-month driver's license suspension, but it died in committee.

"Most of the drug cleansers purport to have a special mixture of herbs and/or compounds in them that actually mask, or hopefully mask, the ability of the drug test to detect the drug," said Dr. James Mowry, director of the Indiana Poison Center. "Since most of them require you to drink large amounts of water with them, their major action is to cause you to have very diluted urine."

Since drug cleansers are sold strictly over-the-counter, their safety has not been assessed.

"These are classified in most cases as nutritional supplements, and those are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Unless they can prove that the nutritional supplement is causing harm, (the FDA) can take no action," Mowry said.

Experts are divided.

"There is no reliable study or any reputable study out looking to see whether or not these actually work," Mowry said. "Most of the information on the Internet is from places that are selling these products. So they have a vested interest in making sure that they sound like they work every time."

Carl Nicks, a counselor for Clarian Health's adolescent chemical dependency program, agreed.

"It is very seldom that the herbal ways or the drug-cleansing products work. The results come back as a diluted urine . . . an indication that it has been tampered with," he said. "If by chance you're in the legal system and your urine comes out diluted, you're going to jail just like that."

Nevertheless, cleansers enjoy an underground popularity with teens and adults who must take drug tests for school, sports or work. Y-Press talked to some teens about drug cleanser awareness.

Cindle Brewster, a sophomore at New Buffalo High School in Michigan, is a member of a community task force on drug testing. Sara Romanowski, a junior at Lebanon High School, wrote an editorial to the local paper after her school was searched by drug-sniffing dogs. The girls had heard of drug cleansers but did not know how they worked.

"I went to a popular search engine and I typed in 'drug cleansers,' and it was readily available. Like the first site that comes up, you can order any kind of pills, any kind of potion that you want. If you send them 40 bucks, they'll send you a kit on how to pass your drug test. And that's really surprising," Sara said.

The public overall may be less aware of drug cleansers than teens are.

"I don't think parents are informed about it because most of the parents aren't even aware that their kids are using the drugs, so they're not gonna know about the drug cleansers," Sara said.

One thing that surprised everyone was the fact that drug cleansers are virtually unregulated.

"I think the sale of drug cleansers to kids is ridiculous. That should definitely be illegal because kids shouldn't be using the drugs in the first place, so they definitely don't need a way to cleanse it," Sara said.

"I think that they all should be regulated, but I also think that if students want to use drugs, they're gonna find a way around it regardless if there's drug testing or not," Cindle said.

Drug cleansers are not risk-free, Mowry said.

"There can be side effects. Since a lot of these are herbal products and plant products, people can have allergies to them. Sometimes you'll have some stomach problems, have some nausea, vomiting," he said. "They should not be used (by) people with certain medical conditions."

What the user may not realize is the high levels of caffeine contained in most cleansers.

"That frequency of urination in my opinion is not real healthy," Nicks said. "And my biggest thing is that it's loaded with the caffeine. . . . So it's not very safe when you have a tremendous amount of caffeine in your system. That can increase your pulse rate, your blood pressure and stuff like that."

While drug cleansers are not illegal, the interviewees agreed that they raise ethical questions.

"I think it is an ethical issue. Basically what someone is trying to do is to hide their drug use from somebody, most likely for a pre-employment physical. You're using the drugs, but you're trying to hide it from the people that have a vested interest in knowing whether or not you are using drugs," Mowry said.

"You know, it's just not being honest and trying to manipulate," said Nicks. "It's just a waste of time and money, and it's also a waste of your integrity because, you know, it's not right."