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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Drug-Test Cheats Try New Tricks on Labs

Experts Say Internet and Household Products Bring New Challenges to Drug Testing
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 28, 2008 -- Vinegar. Lemon juice. Drain-cleaning products. At least one of these items is probably in your kitchen. And any of them can be used to beat a drug test.

For about 20 years, people have been using a long list of very ordinary household items to confuse prospective employers and drug labs hoping to catch them in the act of using or abusing illegal drugs.

Add to the list laundry detergent, baking soda, and ordinary salt.

"Does it work? Yes, it does," says Amitava Dasgupta, PhD, a professor of pathology and drug testing expert from the University of Texas-Houston Medical Center. "It's a cat and mouse game."

Employer drug testing became popular in the late 1980s after President Ronald Reagan instituted drug testing as a requirement for federal jobs. Lots of private companies followed suit, and today thousands run drug tests on people applying for jobs.

Many schools also conduct drug tests on students trying to join sports teams, or, more controversially, sometimes conduct tests on a random basis.

Many household items change urine's pH, or acidity, when they're added to it; most of the time that renders a sample useless for testing. But these are not the cheating methods that worry testers like Dasgupta.

That's because labs can easily tell when urine has been adulterated with household items. Usually they just disqualify the applicant without even bothering to test for specific drugs.

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