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Drug Testing News
Doctor said there
was no way it could show a false positive
By Karin Schill Rives
Source: Augusta Chronicle
Three days after landing his dream job at a Durham, N.C.,
technology company, Davey Burroughs was escorted off its
property in disgrace. A drug test, the kind now used by 67
percent of large U.S. companies to screen employees, had
revealed traces of cocaine in his urine.
Burroughs, 35, was shocked. ''I told them it's not possible,
because I'm not a user,'' he said. ''But the doctor said there
was no way it could show a false positive, and that I must
have either smoked or inhaled it. It was an absolute horror.''
Most drug tests in American work places are uneventful, a
routine matter for workers and their employers. But more
employees such as Burroughs are challenging the results of
drug tests, insisting that errors and sloppy practices in the
largely unregulated drug-testing industry are costing them
Determined to clear his name, Burroughs bought a test kit at a
pharmacy and took it to the Durham clinic that had tested him.
Concentra, the health-care company that owns the clinic,
agreed to conduct a second test - this time on a hair
follicle. It came back negative.
Two weeks after he was fired, Burroughs was reinstated as a
technician at ExceLight Communications, vindicated with back
pay and - he said - an apology from his boss. Bill Clark,
human-resource manager for the fiber-optic cable company, said
the company took Burroughs' work history into consideration
when it decided to give him the job back.
Burroughs had been an ExceLight employee for several years and
then worked as a temporary worker while in school before he
was re-hired earlier this summer. He had no known history of
Only 4.5 percent of tests conducted at large U.S. corporations
come back positive today, down from more than 18 percent in
the late 1980s, according to the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. The agency claims the decline shows the
success of corporate anti-drug policies.
But it also should be noted today's workers are more likely to
fight back if a drug test comes back positive. Last month, a
jury awarded a dismissed Delta Air Lines flight attendant in
Oregon $400,000 in damages after a laboratory incorrectly
reported that she had cheated on a drug test.
Revelations of practices at the lab, which surfaced before the
trial began, prompted the federal government last fall to
launch an investigation into 56 laboratories that validate
drug tests on 1.7 million federal employees and 8.3 million
workers at airlines, trucking firms and other companies
regulated by the government. The audit of 13 million specimens
found 300 test results that were incorrect and had to be
''There is a human factor, and wherever humans are involved,
mistakes can happen,'' said Travis Payne, an employment lawyer
who advises police officers, firefighters and other
public-sector employees about drug testing.
He tells clients who are called in to submit urine samples to
immediately go out and pay for a separate test. That way, they
have a better chance at challenging their dismissal in case a
test shows a false positive for drugs.
But workers in the private sector are far less protected by
law or by practice.
Concentra, which used a separate lab that it owns in Memphis,
Tenn., to validate Burroughs' drug test last month, stands by
its results, claiming two different readings does not
necessarily mean either was wrong.. The two tests cover
different time periods; it's possible, at least in theory,
that a hair test wouldn't show recent drug use.
''We're extremely careful in our collections and certainly at
the lab,'' said John Berry of the Dallas health-care company.
''I'm very confident the testing was done correctly.'' But he
also acknowledged that once in a while, a case will raise
''A lot of time, people say that they haven't taken drugs and
then they just quietly go away,'' Berry said. ''And then
occasionally you see someone fight it hard, and it kind of
makes you wonder.''
Although drug tests are an accepted practice at many
workplaces today, some employees nonetheless view them as an
invasion of privacy.
''From a civil liberties standpoint, it always seemed
questionable to test people for drugs that aren't affecting
their work performance,'' said Dr. Cynthia Kuhn, a professor
of pharmacology at Duke University Medical School and
co-author of ''Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used
and Abused Drugs From Alcohol to Ecstasy'' (W.W. Norton, 1998,
''Although drugs are illegal and it means a person may have a
serious life problem, if (they) smoke crack on a Saturday,
there's no reason to think they couldn't do their work
Monday,'' she said.
Some use such arguments to peddle products that help
rebellious employees beat the system.
Today you can order clean urine, detoxification tablets and
much more over the Internet. Web sites such as
PassYourDrugTest.com -- http://passyourdrugtest.com -- and
BodyCleansers -- http://bodycleansers.com -- offer products
they promise will help drug-using workers escape detection.
Kuhn said the availability of such products might have
contributed to the drop in positive test results. But she also
said that a good analysis of drug tests will detect attempts
to tamper with a sample.
Pam Sherry, a spokeswoman for Laboratory Corporation of
America, one of the largest drug-testing labs in the country,
said her company finds a small number of samples every year
that have been tampered with. There are also cases in which
the drug tests can't be analyzed, for instance if a patient
drank large amounts of water before being tested and the urine
became too diluted, she said.
Source: Augusta Chronicle, The (GA)
Author: Karin Schill Rives
Published: Saturday, August 11, 2001
Copyright: 2001 The Augusta Chronicle