Health & Wellnesshealth talk

Kandace Power Graves discusses drug testing with Barbara McGill, director for compliance at the Louisiana State Board of Nursing


Q: You recently were among professionals who discussed drug testing using urinalysis and ways people try to beat the system at a meeting of the Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Why is drug testing by employers so prevalent?

A: It's become prevalent because the use of drugs is recognized as a big problem in the workplace. It is estimated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that 10-to-12 percent of adults has a problem with drugs.

Q: What does that really mean to an employer?

A: That using drugs or alcohol on the job would decrease their productivity, but also people coming off hangovers or drug use are less productive. The use of alcohol is related to so much absenteeism in the workplace (due to hangover or binges). If they're actually drinking on the job, then their disease is pretty advanced.

Q: Do regular urinalysis drug tests also check for alcohol?

A: It can be done, but I don't think most employers include that in their drug screens. Alcohol leaves your system fairly quickly. The testing for illegal drugs is more prevalent.

Q: What do people do to try to beat the urine test?

A: The easiest thing that most people do is don't go for the test. They find some excuse to put it off. Most drugs will clear your system in two-to-three days. Some will stay longer ... and chronic users of marijuana will have positive drug screens for a longer time. The second most popular is they will try to drink lots of water to dilute their urine. There also are products in health food stores that say they will clean out your system; they actually are diuretics, and sometimes they can dilute their urine enough that the drug test won't pick it up the traces of drugs. Some people will add adulterants to their urine ... to interfere with the testing. The problem with that is that the tests are so sophisticated now that if an adulterant is added to the urine, the machines will pick it up and tell you what has been added. There would be no reason for you to add something unless you were trying to hide something. I'm sure there are a lot of substances that interfere with the test, I know people have used soap.

Q: Are drug testers wise to the tricks?

A: Every time people come up with some way they think they can beat the urine test, testers come up with something to counteract that. The technology really is advancing, and the machines can be so specific now, it's amazing. They can even distinguish between various opiates.

Q: Are there a lot of faulty results and false positive readings?

A: When I first started working with drugs and alcohol (abuse) 25 years ago ... there were a lot of false positives. Today, if you do confirmation testing, you can rule out almost all false positives.

Q: What are the drugs of choice most commonly found through screening?

A: I have a special population with nurses who are alcohol and drug addicts. Their favorite drug of choice is Demerol. Lortab, a hydrocodone, is the second most popular. The favorite drug on the street these days is still cocaine.

Q: Is marijuana still a substance often found in testing?

A: Yes it is, surprisingly. I think it's fairly cheap and it's readily available, and I think a lot of people still don't see marijuana as a problem. There are people who would use marijuana who think they would never dream of using heroin. People seem to believe marijuana's lower on the class of addictive drugs.

Q: Is urinalysis still the most common for of drug testing by employers?

A: Hair testing is quite expensive, and they use some of the same technology. The problem with hair testing is that the metabolites are deposited in your hair as it grows out, so that if your use is recent, it's not going to show up. But if there is a problem with continued use, it will show. Hair testing is good for detecting drugs that disappear rapidly from the system,

Q: Are there tricks to beat the hair test?

A: I did hear of a person who went to a drug treatment center for an evaluation, and he showed up completely shaved. He had shaved his head, arms, chest, legs, even his pubic hair. People will go to great lengths so they can continue their relationship with a drug. It's kind of sad, but it's part of the disease.

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