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Drug Testing News

Drug Testing Industry Tries To Thwart Drug-Test Foilers


While a few upstarts may be determined to foil drug tests, the giant drug-testing industry is bent on foiling the foilers. But it isn't easy.

The industry has created ways to detect adulterant products in urine samples designed to hide the signs of drug use. It's starting to use tests based on hair and oral fluid, supposedly tougher to beat than urine tests. And it's taken its case to state governments -- several of which recently banned the marketing and use of drug-test adulterants.

Based on sheer size, the industry should be quashing its upstart opponents. Sixty-seven percent of major U.S. firms drug-test employees, according to a 2001 American Management Association survey, and the industry expects 2003 revenues to reach an estimated $947 million, according to Market data.
The drug-test foilers, meanwhile, are mostly mom-and-pop-type operations that sell their wares through Web sites and retail stories.

But the behemoth drug-testing industry is fragmented. With test manufacturers, testing labs, consultants, employers and the government all playing a part, it can be hard to put up a united front against inventive adversaries willing to try anything from simple tablets to prosthetic penises that serve as hidden sacks of somebody else's urine.

Plus, ensuring that samples aren't tampered can be an expensive proposition, one that some companies aren't willing to bear.

So far, the industry's best success seems to be tests that detect common adulterants, such as bleach, in urine. About half of Quest Diagnostics Inc.'s clients opt for a series of tests called TestSure, says Barry Sample, director of science and technology at Quest. TestSure adds an additional $2 to the cost of the drug test, which can vary from $16 to $28.

Industry Percentage of companies that test applicants or employees
Manufacturing 81%
Finance (banks, insurance and real estate) 23%
Wholesale and retail trade 65%
Business and Professional Services* 44%
Public Administration 76%
Other Non-Profit 50%
Other For-Profit 70%
Total of all respondents 67%
* Includes computer software, legal, health, social and educational services, accounting, engineering, auto repair and more.


Source: The American Management Association's 2001 Medical Testing Survey, of more than 1600 companies.

Syva Co., a unit of diagnostic company Dade Behring based in Deerfield, Ill., says its adulterant-screening products have seen 50% growth over the past two years, while Roche Diagnostics, a division of Switzerland's Roche Holding AG, says sales for its similar Intect 7 test strips have increased 77% since 1998.

Quest says oxidants, a common agent in adulterants, are being found less frequently. Of the approximately 6.3 million tests tracked by Quest's Drug Testing Index in 2001, a scant 0.54% tested positive for an oxidizing adulterant, compared with 0.92% in 2000 and 1.7% in 1999.

Government guidelines due next year would make testing for adulterants mandatory for federal and safety-sensitive workers, like pilots and truck drivers.

That could prompt the private sector to follow suit and use tests for adulterants with every drug test, says Jim Wright, director of compliance at DISA Inc., a Houston-based drug-testing advisory firm.

Some in the industry believe that nonurine tests, such as hair and oral-fluid tests, will be the winning approach. More companies are using these tests, such as Cambridge, Mass.-based Psychemedics Corp.'s hair tests and oral-fluid tests from OraSure Technologies Inc. in Bethlehem, Pa., which are marketed as impervious to current adulterants. Hair tests liquefy hair to get at drug traces deposited in the center of strands over long periods of time, an approach that is said to defeat foiling shampoos that clean the outside of hair.

Industry Share of all testing by industry
Manufacturing 62%
Finance (banks, insurance and real estate) 3%
Wholesale and retail trade 8%
Business and Professional Services 6%
Public Administration 3%
Other Non-Profit 9%
Other For-Profit 10%
Source: The American Management Association's 2001 Medical Testing Survey, of more than 1600 companies

Meanwhile, both tests are administered by or in front of another person -- an inch-size snip of hair at the root or a swab of saliva -- eliminating private time in a bathroom when urine samples can be altered. Another option is on-site spot urine sampling devices used, for example, when a candidate arrives to interview, to minimize risk of advanced planning to thwart the test.

Finally, the law is increasingly on the industry's side. In November, North Carolina joined New Jersey, Texas, Nebraska and Pennsylvania in criminalizing drug-test foiling; neighboring South Carolina outlawed adulterants in 1999, imposing fines of up to $5,000 and three years in prison.

Meanwhile, industry lobbyists are shooting for federal legislation, according to Laura Shelton, executive director of the Drug and Alcohol Testing Association. "I think right now it's just a matter of finding out who's in Congress and what is the right approach as far as introducing legislation."

Sometimes foiling the foilers comes down to individual determination. Syed Hussain, owner of an Examination Management Services Inc. testing branch in midtown Manhattan, recalls one man who came for a hair test shaved head to toe -- not once, but twice. The third time, at the client company's suggestion, Mr. Hussain whipped out a razor and shaved the stubble on the man's head.

"They cannot beat the system," Mr. Hussain says.

The Drug Test Menu

Test Types* Test-Industry Pros Test-Industry Cons Foiling Products
Urine tests Donor gives sample at testing center. The test screens for signs of drug usage one to 30 days prior (window depends primarily on the drug type). The industry "gold standard," these tests have withstood legal challenges and have been around longest. Donor alone in bathroom. The foiling industry has had years to develop strategies. A range of drinks, pills, and urine additives of varying efficacy. If outdated, the additives can be detected in the sample.
On-site urine tests Donor gives sample on the spot, usually without prior warning. The collection devices themselves, usually cups, can reveal signs of drug usage, one to 30 days prior (window depends primarily on the drug type). Donor lacks prior knowledge of test. Results available in minutes. Donor alone in a bathroom. Devices can be read incorrectly. Because detoxifying drinks must be taken at least 45 minutes ahead of a test, they won't work for surprise tests. Donor must use urine additives.
Oral-fluid tests Donor sticks a swab in mouth in front of administrator. The test screens for signs of drug usage one to three days prior. Donor lacks privacy and prior knowledge of test. Not yet fully tested in courts. Detoxifying mouthwashes purport to coat the mouth with solution and stop saliva flow for 30-40 minutes, preventing the testing lab from obtaining a positive reading.
Hair tests Administrator cuts about 60 strands near a donor's scalp (or elsewhere) and liquefies sample to wash out contaminants. The test screens the wash for signs of drug usage in the past 90 days. Donor lacks privacy. Have withstood legal challenges. Will not detect recent (one-to-seven day) usage. Shampoo products coat the hair with a compound that is said to destroy traces of illicit drugs released when the hair specimen is dissolved for testing.

*All tests detect at least marijuana (THC), cocaine, opiates, amphetamines and PCP. Positive samples are often verified, as above tests are screens, by another test called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

Sources: drug-test manufacturers and adulterant manufacturers