When Is A Urine Specimen Considered Tampered?

In 1988, the Drug-Free Workplace Act was passed in the US. It prohibits federal employees, contractors and grantees, as well as federally regulated or security- and safety-related industries, from possessing or using controlled substances. Private employers also have a drug-free workplace policy, although it is not mandatory. Urine is also used in sports and health care.  

Cheating on drug tests can be done for many reasons, including to retain their jobs, keep their medals and avoid going into prison.  

Different Types of Urine Screening

Two-step drug tests are common. The first step is immunoassays which provide a quantitative “yes” or “no” answer as to whether the drug being tested for is present in the biological specimen. Immunoassays detect these specific drugs and/or metabolites using antibodies. A negative result is one where drug concentrations are lower than the threshold. If the initial screen returns a positive result samples will be processed for quantification and confirmation. The second step is to perform gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry or LC tandem mass spectrometry on the samples. These methods separate the compounds from the samples and allow them to be identified by their unique molecular fingerprints. They also quantify the compounds.  

There are many types of biological samples that can be tested for drugs. Each has its own pros and cons.  

How long can drugs remain in the body?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s five panel immunoassay is used for workplace drug testing. Commonly known as SAMHSA-5, it is also called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The panel has traditionally tested five types of drugs: amphetamines (PCP), marijuana, cocaine and opiates.  

The majority of commercially available drug screens test for alcohol, barbiturates and benzodiazepines. 

Ways to tamper with a urine specimen

Because of privacy concerns, urine collection is often done unobserved. The following methods can be used to manipulate urine samples: 

  1. Substitution 

Test takers can substitute synthetic urine from another person or animal to avoid positive results.  

  1. Dilution 

There are many ways to dilute urine samples. To dilute the urine sample, water or other liquids can be added. Test takers could also drink plenty of water or consume detox drinks that claim to eliminate drug residues. This can be done anywhere from a few hours up to several days before sample collection. These products may cause urine to be diluted in order for the drug(s) to be detected below acceptable levels. Although this mechanism of action is not known, it is likely that it does.  Side effects can range from changing the color of your urine to nausea and intestinal problems. After varying amounts of abstinence, some detoxifiers claim to produce a negative hair test result.  

  1. Adulteration 

In vitro adulteration is the addition of substances to urine following sample collection that could cause interference with test results. To cheat a drug test, there are many adulterants that can be used, such as household chemicals (vinegar, detergent and bleach), isopropyl alcohol (and eye drops), commercial chemicals (nitrite and glutaraldehyde) and food items (lemons juice and soda). These substances can interfere with the detection of certain drugs, but not all. PCC (pyridinium chlorochromate) can reduce the detection of morphine and cannabis but it will increase the sensitivity to amphetamines, without affecting PCP detection. Glutaraldehyde can produce false-negative results depending on its concentration. This could be due to adulterants such as methadone, marijuana, benzodiazepine and cocaine metabolites. Peroxides, chromates, as well as glutaraldehyde, can interfere with certain enzymes and hinder the detection of drugs and metabolites.

Ways To Detect Tampered Urine

  1. Physical and chemical characteristics 

Changes in appearance and odors are often the first signs of sample manipulation. Drinking excessive water can cause urine to appear almost transparent. However, urine detoxifiers can produce urine that is unnaturally colored. Some detoxifiers do contain niacin, which gives urine a natural yellow hue and is not considered an adulterant. The distinctive odors that detoxifiers emit can indicate the presence of vinegar, bleach, and alcohol. The addition of detergents can be detected by excessive foaming or turbidity. Human urine has a variety of known physicochemical properties, including temperature between 32 and 38 degrees Celsius (when freshly collected), specific gravity between 1.002 to 1.02, creatinine concentrations higher than 20 mg/dL, pH of 4.5-9, and specific gravity between 1.002 to 1.02. Any deviations from these ranges confirm the urine specimen is considered tampered.

  1. Spot testing for adulterants 

 There are several colorimetric methods that can be used to detect specific adulterants like PCC, nitrite and glutaraldehyde. Hydrochloric acid can be used to make urine that has been contaminated with PCC brownish, and hydrogen peroxide will turn urine pink.  

  1. Test strips for adulteration

There are many commercially available on-site adulteration detection devices and strips. Individual strips can be used to detect pH, creatinine and nitrites.

The Evolving Landscape of Urine Specimen Tampering

In certain industries, such as construction and transportation, positive results from workplace drug testing are on the rise. Cheating on drug tests may increase due to the growing gap between federally-approved marijuana legalization policies and state-legalized marijuana. The sale of drug-free urine has been banned in certain states and in addition to this, several states are currently considering legislation to ban the sale and use of synthetic urine. This means that there are many ways to conceal drug testing (e.g. powdered urine kits or home remedies like washing your hair with vinegar and salicylic acids three to four times per day). As such, detection methods end up falling prey to the deceitful acts of drug test cheats.  

Work With A Trusted Toxicology Expert

Keystone Laboratories, a CAP-accredited North Carolina licensed laboratory and CLIA-licensed lab, is committed to helping you make important decisions that impact the safety and health of your patients with greater confidence. Clients in 48 states can get prescription drug and substance abuse recovery monitoring, specialized testing, workplace drug testing, screening, and program management services from Keystone. Contact Keystone Laboratories today to receive the industry-leading laboratory testing services!

When Is A Urine Specimen Considered Tampered?
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