Put 30 drug-testing workers in a room for a few hours and it isn't long before they start trading strange -- and somewhat indelicate -- tales of urine collection.
Talk of false penises, and synthetic urine formulated in separate his and hers versions. Stories of specimens doctored to the most vivid hues of blue, green and purple, and others spiked with bleach or diluted with chewing tobacco. And accounts of mystery concoctions ingested or added to try to ensure that urine does not betray the drug use of its provider.
Drug screening is a rite of passage for millions of U.S. workers, with more than 40 million tests conducted each year by employers and others.
But the prevalence of screening and the reach of the Internet has fostered a thriving cottage industry of entrepreneurs who promise to help workers beat the tests.
Once such company is Spectrum Labs of Cincinnati, which got its start in 1992 with a product called Urine Luck, a urine additive whose formula the company keeps changing in a bid to stay one step ahead of the testing labs bent on deciphering and detecting it.
"I think there's version 7.3 out there right now. It's like software," Ted Shults, chairman of the American Association of Medical Review Officers, says with grudging admiration.
As new types of tests have gained acceptance in the past few years, Spectrum has also begun looking beyond urine. The company now sells nine products, including Get Clean Shampoo intended to counteract hair tests and Quick Fizz tablets for saliva tests.
"It's not about defrauding anybody," Wilson said of his company's products. "It's about protecting privacy, because people have no privacy anymore."
A handful of states are passing laws that forbid the sale of substances or devices designed to beat drug tests. So far there has been only limited enforcement.
In one closely watched case, S.C. prosecutors won conviction of a businessman, Kenneth Curtis, for violating a state law that bans the sale of urine to cheat on a drug test.
Curtis, who began serving a six-month sentence in February, sold thousands of containers of his own urine in the late 1990s over the Internet.
Labs and firms that make the testing technology say they've worked aggressively to screen out cheaters who use substitute urine or adulterants.
Quest Diagnostics Inc., one of the largest providers of workplace drug tests, reports that the most common type of adulterants were detected in just 0.02 percent of the 2.8 million tests it administered in the first half of last year. That is down from 0.23 percent in 1999, an all-time high.
Substituted urine was detected in 0.03 percent of tests, a figure that has stayed roughly constant over time.
Alternative testing will make it even harder for cheaters, said Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Quest's corporate health and wellness division. Unlike most urine tests, hair and saliva tests are done under direct observation, making substitution difficult, he said. So far, products marketed to foil the test don't appear to work, he said.
But Sample said he doesn't expect cheaters and companies that cater to them to give up.
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