Scientists try to stay one step ahead of drug test cheaters

Carl Linden
Carl Linden

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – In the last few months, scientists at Hawaii's Diagnostic Laboratory Services started noticing a huge jump in the number of workers trying to fake their drug tests. Now, researchers are trying to call their bluff.

"There are some days when we've had close to 10% of the samples that were synthetic, " says chemist Carl Linden, the scientific director of toxicology at the lab. "The number of the suspicious samples just exploded all of the sudden."

Synthetic urine has become the latest fad as employees or potential employees try to hide their drug use. Now, DLS – which is state's largest drug tester - has developed a way to detect fake urine and inconsistencies in the drug tests.

"We came up with a missing component in synthetic urine that the manufacturers do not add in there," Linden says.

It's not hard to find a steady stream of those fake urine manufacturers on the internet – some who even provide step-by-step instructions on how to cheat the system.

Synthetic urine has some of the components of the real stuff but doesn't include many biological aspects, like disease in our bodies or waste.

The lab collects between 40 thousand and 60 thousand drug samples each year, and it can be a challenge to stay one step ahead of the cheaters.

"Place the cap back onto the Quick Fix and shake, " claims an ad for one synthetic urine product. As the advertisement shows ways to use the product, it concludes by saying, "Congratulations! You have passed the test!"

Scientists say it's been a cat-and-mouse game with these manufacturers and donors who cheat the system - with each side trying to outsmart the other. Linden recalls some of the ways donors have tried to cheat their way through drug tests, "Initially, it was chemical additives, attempted substitutions. In the past, people have brought in Mountain Dew - it has a similar coloration – also, adding bleach." Now, it's all about synthetics.

Right now, Hawaii does not prohibit their sale. Scientists say their only defense is to keep developing more advanced detection tests as new products surface.

If the lab discovers inconsistencies, it will recommend employers have the employee or potential employee take another drug test within 24 hours.

When it comes to the types of drugs people do test positive for, Diagnostic Laboratory Services says Hawaii actually ranks higher than the national average for amphetamine use, specifically ICE, but the state comes in lower than the national average for illegal substances like recreational marijuana and cocaine.

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