SVTs Change The Odds in Drug Testing
Sample Verification Tests Make Passing The Whiz Quiz More Difficult
Medicalization and adult use cannabis are sexy these days. Enormous legal strides made over the last eight years have left us with 31 states offering some kind of medicalized cannabis law and 9 offering some kind of recreational reform. The advance in the law has been breathtaking.
Equally breathtaking has been a similar spurt in the science, craft and culture of cannabis all across the boards. Edibles, pens, cartridges, oils, dabs, vaporizers, topicals, rigs, nails, dabbers, CBD, CBG, THC-A, RSO, oromucosal sprays, patches, industrial pre-rolls, suppositories, budder, shatter, sauce, tinctures, concentrates, canna-butters, live resin, rosin, infusions, soft drinks, cuisines, terpenes and turpenoids, flavors and flavonoids… torches that look like elves…. the majesty of industrial hemp… the serendipitous arrival of the endocannabinoid system. (Notice I haven’t even mentioned flowers. Flowers are sooo 20th Century…)
The drug warriors have had their success stories too. They have enjoyed and profited from their innovations just like we did from ours. They watched a billion dollar industry arise from adversity, arrive with the new laws that they engineered. I suppose on their side it was exhilarating, but on our side it was terrifying.
Nowhere was their terror more evident than in the ongoing game of cat and mouse that everyone else called drug testing.
A guy walks into a doctor’s office. The doctor says,”Your urine test came back. I have good news and bad news.”
“What’s the good news?” the man asks.
“You passed the drug test.”
“Great! What’s the bad news?”
When I first began to cover drug testing for a little alternative newsweekly twenty years ago, the tests were laughably flawed. Fifty percent false positives were all-too-common which sounds like a travesty (and it was), but those same imperfections allowed people like me to pass my drug text with flying colors when all my colors were cannabis green. Acing the whiz quiz back then was really like taking an intelligence test: if you couldn’t figure out how to pass the urinalysis you were probably too stupid to keep the job.
A few years later when I was the drug test columnist for High Times, I watched with a reporter’s discerning eye as dueling markets emerged. In the beginning you had to drink a gallon of nasty diuretic tea over two hours, maybe throw up once or twice along the way, and afterwards, piss out a clear mountain stream. Make sure you take a B12 to put some color back in the flow. After a time they caught on to the tea, and then something else came along. And something else and something else again until there was a new-formed galaxy of stealth products with an arcane language all its own. Words like glutaraldehyde and creatinine – I couldn’t keep up. With all those choices it seemed to me to boil down to just three options: you could dilute your bladder, switch your piss or spike your sample. Before, during or after. Dilution, Substitution. Adulteration.
There were gelatin caps and dissolvable powders and pre-mixed, brightly colored drinks in big-mouthed bottles perfect for chugging, refilling and chugging, refilling and chugging. That describes a simple dilution no matter how much they dress it up. Many of these products contained caffeine or other diuretics to speed things through, and sugar and natural or artificial flavoring to make it chugable. The caps and powders were there to reconstitute your urine with the vitamins and minerals you would expect to find in a cup of perfectly clean piss. You drink all that liquid and then piss like a racehorse before you go to your test. A cavalcade of dilutions – Absolute Detox XXL drink, Absolute Carbo Drinks, Ready Clean Drug Detox Drink, Fast Flush Capsules, and Ready Clean Gel Capsules and more – all worked with impunity until the administrators started tagging dilutes. At first, catching dilutes was always hit and miss, but they got better at it over time. Suspicious levels of specific gravity and low levels of creatinine, a muscle metabolite, could indicate dilution or maybe an adulteration
Adulterants were fundamentally different. After you filled your sample cup, before you turned it in, there was a brief opportunity in the stall to spike your pee with a commercial adulterant that could either mask the toxins for a few precious hours or destroy any subsequent trace. Nitrates, for instance, oxidized the THC metabolite and rendered it undetectable, so products like Klear and Whizzies depend on nitrates. Normal urine does not contain nitrate and a simple colorimetric test can reveal its presence. Same thing for Pyridinium chlorochromate (PCC), another popular oxidizing agent commonly sold in Urine Luck. Traces of PCC can be discovered in a urine solution with a chromium colorimetric test.
I now know that the other funny word – the one I can’t pronounce, glutaraldehyde – can cause a false negative test result by disrupting the enzyme used in the immunoassay, and the “g” word is the chemical agent in UriAid and Clear Choice products. Collectively called “detox drinks” these concoctions did not detoxify as much as they disguised your urine’s true drug profile long enough to get through the test. What started out as drinking too much cranberry juice or pissing through powdered bleach in your fingernails became a bona fide emergency response industry. It worked until it didn’t – or, more precisely, it worked well until it didn’t work as well. Increasingly, the dilutes were joined by the invalids. All of it was a crapshoot anyway as they were fixing a flawed technology on the fly. Urine testing was very broken from the beginning, and everyone knew it so the government required verifications, The testing industry, in turn, developed a range of confirmatory tests and procedures that satisfied the critics but cost a boatload of money. Somewhere around 2011 the industry begin to commodify the confirmations. For an initial cost you can drug test your employees; for an extra charge you can confirm the results. Think about that for a second. You paid for the test that gave you a result, and then you paid extra to have that result confirmed. The era of specimen verification had begun. It’s not that the old tweaked solutions no longer worked, it was that they no longer worked as well. Only the drug test industry knows how many dilutions and invalids are caught each year, and the real numbers are closely guarded secrets, but it is safe to say that since the arrival of the Specimen Verifications Tests (SVTs) have significantly changed the modern game of cat and mouse.
The slow arrival of specimen verification testing was a blessing to the drug testing industry. It’s one thing to be able to catch cheaters – they could always catch cheaters but it cost too much money. But selling SVTs made catching cheaters profitable! The reputation for flawed technology that defined urine testing twenty years ago – the reputation that made the detox drinks and adulterants industry possible – morphed into the perfect platform to market a new kind of test, a verification test, that could provide peace of mind for an additional price. As the labs got better at catching cheaters, the drug test industry got better at commodifying the service. But a close look reveals that there are limits to the SVTs as well. A blogger promoting Sample Verification Test for Quest Diagnostics wrote of ensuring “the integrity of a urine drug test by measuring pH, creatinine, oxidants and specific gravity,” Similarly, Quest’s major competitor, LabCorp, which operates one of the largest clinical laboratory networks in the world, sells SVT test panels that check for creatinine, specific gravity, pH and/or nitrates, according to the customer’s needs. By now, these are the testing industry’s best weapons against an increasing horde of diluters and adulterators, the science that puts the brakes on the cheaters; but on the subject of piss switching the drug test providers are less self-assured.
The Quest blogger suggested “donors may attempt to use common household products like vinegar, ammonia, detoxifiers, chemical additives, bleach, or other substances.” While that may be marginally true, the old school urban legends surrounding bleach, vinegar and ammonia no longer work (and haven’t for years), and the detoxifiers and additives are losing more ground to the SVTs every day. Almost as an afterthought the Quest blogger adds “a donor may even substitute his/her urine with synthetic urine or beverages…”
That single sentence contains both the smartest and stupidest advice I’ve ever heard when it comes to beating your urine test. Let’s unpack the stupid first:
If you try to substitute your tainted urine with a clean “beverage_ – lemonade, tea or Mountain Dew, for example – you will fail your drug test! I repeat: You. Will. Fail. Your. Test! That ship sailed in 1998, and it never came back.
If, however, you choose to swap your dirty sample with quality synthetic piss, you have a pretty good chance of passing the test. Drink a lot of liquid and piss it all out before your test means you’re in danger of coming back “dilute.” Spike your sample after filling up the cup and there’s a good chance you’ll be tagged as an “invalid;” but quality urine with all the parameters attended to offers the best chance to pass your urine test in the 21st Century. It’s the last best idea. Don’t have to take my word for it. Specific gravity can undo a dilute and a simple colorimetric test will unmask an adulterant, but according to the Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions blog, “[U]rine testing is not always foolproof… If synthetic urine can be successfully substituted for real urine in the privacy of the collection site restroom, unfortunately there is often little that can be done.”
Yes, it requires a touch more bravery to sneak a vial of synthetic piss into the stall, but not too much more. They have thigh-vials and belt-pouches to help with that sort of thing and even a fake phallus through which warm syn piss will flow. So if you got the balls, they got the dick (and there are less dynamic versions for women which employ a small tube). It certainly requires you to up your game a little, but that’s the way the game is going to be played from now on. Of course there’s a product line that I can recommend. More than anything these are the people I trust to sell the quality you need, and I’ve known them for almost twenty years. Weirdly enough, in the business of drug test cheating, there’s no substitute for trust.
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro…”