Real Powdered Urine

April 10, 2004
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No kidding. Numerous sources on the Internet advertise and do a brisk business selling advice and products that, they claim, can outwit alcohol and drug tests conducted by employers, law enforcement and government agencies. One product: a 10-pack of real powdered urine.

In 1989, drug testing became more common thanks to the Drug-free Workplace Act, which was part of the Anti-drug Abuse Act. Numerous local, state and federal laws and regulations mandate alcohol and drug testing, often depending on the type of job or position. Some organizations mandate testing as part of the hiring process. Others, especially in the transportation field, have random testing programs of those currently employed. There also is testing for cause, after an accident or when an incident or situation indicates the reasonable assumption that a person was under the influence.

Alcohol and drug testing has its highs and lows.

In February, for instance, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would phase out testing prisoners for drug use. The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program, almost 20 years old, collected data on recently arrested criminal defendants in 35 major cities. Justice officials claimed Congress left no money for the program.

Cost is a factor in the dramatic drop in workplace drug testing. Some also claim that low positive results when candidates or employees are tested also makes it easy for employers to cut back on testing programs. Fifty percent of large U.S. companies drug tested in 2001, down from 62 percent a decade earlier, according to a survey of about 1,600 companies by the New York-based American Management Association.

At the same time, alcohol and drug testing has taken on an improved, high tech profile. For those ordering that real powdered urine, they’ll be crying in their cups upon discovering that many employers have moved on to more sophisticated procedures. Such tests are often outsourced and can include swabbing a worker’s desk or a driver’s cab. Samples of hair, sweat or saliva are more routine.

The testing industry, represented by the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association of Alexandria, Va., not surprisingly believes cutting costs by cutting alcohol and drug testing is not a good thing. They purport that the cost of absences, injuries, lawsuits and liability – while not as clearly itemized as the cost of a drug test per person – is vastly higher.

Most of the testing laws and regulations are based on safety issues as well as the wish of society to address addiction and problems associated with illegal drug use.

More recently the concern has shifted to the integrity of an industry with professional sports figures, as well as the up-and-comers in colleges and high schools, under a spotlight following of evidence of abuse of steroids and human growth hormones. If you didn’t realize it, there’s a U.S. Anti-doping Agency. Its investigations, at least in part, led to the arraignment recently of four individuals in San Francisco who allegedly were closely tied to illegal steroids and drugs sold to professional athletes. Major League Baseball, just starting its 2004 season, has received the greatest press coverage centering on the recent drug distribution charges in San Francisco. Professional football players and individuals involved in Olympics competition have also come under intense scrutiny. But professional baseball has the weakest drug testing program. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig says he wants a zero-tolerance policy but that is a tough nut to crack.

Without invoking his "best interest in the game" powers, Selig cannot do much without approval of the Major League Baseball Players Association, who reiterated their sharp opposition to drug testing during recent congressional hearings.

Things are different in the minor leagues, where players are tested for steroids, amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, LSD and ecstasy. A first-timer offender in the minors is suspended for 15 games without pay. Caught the fifth time, the player is finally expelled from the game.

Union concern about drug testing ironically includes opposition to testing by members of the Toronto, Canada, Police Association. Drug testing as a mandatory part of promotion of an officer was part of a series of police reforms recommended in a Toronto investigation into police misconduct.

Sidebar: Urine by the 10-pack

Numerous websites offer advice and products that they claim will fool alcohol and drug tests. With marketing copy obviously written for a twenties-something male, the services seek a cool profile. For organizations testing, however, newer generation tests as well as tightened procedures more often defeat the “real powdered urine” approach.

"Workplace drug testing has had its highs and lows."

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