Coal industry, unions criticize drug test plan

BEAVER, W.Va. – The mining industry is roundly criticizing proposed federal rules to expand drug testing.

Labor unions and mine operators alike told the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration not to approve the proposal during a hearing Tuesday.

Both the United Steelworkers and United Mine Workers panned the rules as unnecessary and unconstitutional. The National Mining Association said MSHA needs stricter rules.

Mining association lobbyist Bruce Watzman said the rules would make mines more dangerous by making testing less stringent. Watzman said MSHA should allow blood, hair and saliva testing rather than restricting mine operators to urine tests.

MSHA took testimony from sites in Beaver, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Englewood, Colo., Birmingham, Ala., Madisonville, Ky., and Price, Utah.

In response to “ To Catch a Cheat “ …     the only way to assure an accurate drug test is via observed specimen collection.

Recently updated SAMHSA / DOT Guidelines will do little to prevent the prevalent practices of urine substitution and adulteration. Urine drug testing laboratories can not detect basic forms of adulteration, such as dilution, to any significant degree, and are completely powerless to address substitution or more complex forms of adulteration.

It’s quite simple actually, urine is too procedurally complex and invasive to use as a drug testing specimen. The DOT in particular has had over 10 years deploy an effective urine-based program, and it has FAILED to do so. This fact has been substantiated by Federal GAO studies and multiple independent case studies.

The following recent quotations concisely summarize the failure urine bases drug testing… specifically DOT-based programs:

"Here in the United States of America, we have no meaningful program of drug testing for commercial truck drivers, none."
- Peter A. DeFazio, Rep., Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit

“It’s frankly astonishing and shocking and dismaying. You can manipulate urine tests, you can mask substance abuse and go undetected on the roadways.” – Jim Oberstar, D-Minnesota, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Oral fluid / saliva technology, both on-site and laboratory-based is accurate, and allows for observed specimen collection. Employees can be tested at their worksite, and don’t have the ability to stop of and “prepare” for test on the way to a collection site. A urine collection site, by the way, that typically has the least skilled and lowest paid individuals of a TPA (Third Party Administrator) organization or urine testing laboratory.

Safety professionals need to step forward.

They are uniquely qualified to develop, implement, and monitor drug free workplace programs and associate drug testing, drug education, and employee assistance. They are the ones that have the credentials to administer drug testing and monitor ancillary activities. Thankfully, there are hundreds of innovative individuals and private corporations that are beginning to act.

Unfortunately, there is little hope for Federal Mandated Drug Testing Occupations in the short term, as the DOT and SAMHSA continue to knock heads relative to approving alternative specimen times such as oral fluid and hair.

The, general workplace, however, exclusive of these mandated occupations, is not stuck in their quagmire, is able to deploy effective drug free workplace programs.

It is important to be aware the DOT / SAMHSA guideline do NOT test for prescription pain relievers such as Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percoset), Oxymorphone, ,Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab), Hydromorphone… the most widely abused of all prescription medications and likely the most significant workplace safety threat today? Also, DOT/SAMHSA guidelines specify a cut-off level for Opiates of 2000 ng/ml, which virtually makes the detection of a significant percentage of codeine, heroin, and morphine abusers impossible.

Lastly, the below chart does not represent a cleaner workplace.

Not a Cleaner Workplace !

Not a Cleaner Workplace !

It represents the continuing ability of drug abusers to defeat urine tests, as well as the shifting dynamics of drug abuse.

The graphic is primarily a representation of pre-employment tests that are urine-based. Of course they will decline. Ask any expert and they will tell you that “Drug abuse in America is as bad, if not worse than ever”, and the real safety and health threat over the past 10-15 years is the abuse

Chemical & Engineers News Article

(Source: September 9 2008 – Chemical Engineering News)

To Catch A Cheat

Clinical chemists battle products designed to fool workplace drug tests

Melody Voith

EAGER JOB CANDIDATES who receive an offer of employment might feel as though they have won an Olympic gold medal—especially when they are asked to provide a sample for a drug test. And just like at the Olympics, some test subjects will try to beat the system.

But unlike at the Olympics, where officials test athletes for performance-enhancing substances (C&EN, Aug. 11, page 25), workplace drug tests are performed to identify those whose use of illicit substances may impair their job performance and create liabilities for their employers.


Urine trouble Clinical chemists check for adulterants in drug test samples.

According to Amitava Dasgupta, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Texas Medical School, Houston, many products are on the market that prospective employees can use to dilute, substitute, or adulterate their test samples. In a talk at the annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Chemists in Washington, D.C., in late July, he advised laboratory chemists to be vigilant in their pursuit of valid test results. “Toxicologists are smarter than drug users,” he said, but they need to know the tricks of the trade.

President Ronald Reagan started the drug-testing arms race in 1986 when he issued an executive order directing federal agencies to achieve a drug-free workplace. Since then, all federal agencies have followed the mandatory guidelines of the Federal Drug-Free Workplace programs administered by the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS). The guidelines cover testing for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and phenylcyclohexylpiperidine (PCP).

Many private employers use similar procedures to create a drug-free workplace. In a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 84% of employers said they conduct preemployment drug testing.

According to R. H. Barry Sample, director of science and technology in the employer solutions division of Quest Diagnostics, a leading test firm, federally mandated test programs currently require the use of urine samples. DHHS has drafted revised regulations that would permit hair and saliva collection, but they are not yet in effect. Almost 90% of drug tests performed by Quest are on urine samples, and saliva tests are the second most common.

Many products that enable cheating target urine tests. Easily found on the Internet, they are marketed under names such as Urine Luck, Ultra Klean Detox Drink, Power Flush, Tinkle, and the Wizzinator.

In his talk Dasgupta described how most methods for cheating on drug tests focus on the first of two testing hurdles—the initial quick-result screening test. The screen is an immunoassay, similar to the at-home drug screens available at many pharmacies. Usually, test administrators at sample collection sites send only nonnegative results to a lab for confirmation testing by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.

The hundreds of products marketed to help drug users circumvent urine drug tests fall into three main categories: products that are consumed prior to the test, products that are added to the test sample, and devices for smuggling synthetic or borrowed “clean” urine into the testing facility. Toxicologists focus on the first two because, as Sample pointed out, “if it’s someone else’s urine, there is not a lab test in the world that would tell you that.”

CLEANER Workplace Positive drug test results have declined in U.S. workforce

SOURCE: Quest Diagnostics

Spectrum Labs’ Aqua Clean effervescent tablet, available from, is a consumable product that claims to clean the body of drugs and drug metabolites. Like all similar products, it requires the user to drink a vast quantity of water—between 40 and 60 oz—in a short amount of time. Dasgupta’s examination of these products has shown they are nothing more than expensive caffeine pills—diuretics that create a lot of urine and dilute drug content to below the screening cutoff values.

IN ADDITION to lowering the concentration of drugs in the urine, however, the excess water also decreases creatinine levels to below 20 mg/dL and specific gravity to less than 1.003, both key indicators of a diluted specimen. Creatinine is a breakdown product of creatine from muscle tissue, and in healthy people it is excreted by the kidneys at a constant rate. Dasgupta recommended creatinine and specific gravity tests on all samples and suggested that lowering drug cutoff values on the screening test would catch most dilutions.

Test takers also try to beat the immunoassays by adding adulterants—including common household chemicals—to their urine sample. Drano drain opener, for example, inactivates the antibodies used in the screen. Table salt, vinegar, and liquid soap can all interfere with the enzyme-multiplied immunoassay technique and the fluorescence polarization immunoassay.

The collection site and laboratory can detect samples contaminated with “do it yourself” adulterants, Dasgupta said, by ensuring that the temperature is between 90.5 and 98.9 ºF, specific gravity is between 1.005 and 1.030, and pH is between 4.0 and 10.0. A common adulterant is plain tap water, so labs should ensure that creatinine concentration is 20–400 mg/dL. If the test sample does not meet the criteria, then it would be considered invalid, likely resulting in the employee not being hired.

On the Internet other adulterants are available that Dasgupta acknowledged are “very tricky.” He commonly sees two types. One product, Urine Luck, comes in small tubes and contains the active ingredient pyridinium chlorochromate (PCC) to reduce the response rate of tests for opiates and THC (marijuana). The other, marketed as Klear, consists of white crystalline potassium nitrite. These oxidizers are most effective on tests for THC. “They are very strong oxidizing agents. They destroy the drug molecule so you can cheat the drug test in both the screening and the confirmation,” Dasgupta said.

Dasgupta reassured the clinical chemists in the audience that simple spot tests can identify the oxidizers. The addition of a few drops of hydrogen peroxide to PCC-adulterated urine creates a dark brown precipitate. To detect nitrite he suggested adding a small amount of the suspect sample to potassium permanganate solution and then adding a few drops of hydrochloric acid. The pink permanganate solution will immediately become colorless and effervescent if nitrite is present.

Because most negative samples are not sent to the laboratory for confirmation testing, companies such as Sciteck Diagnostics have found a market niche for instant test strips that detect urine adulteration. The company makes several versions of AdultaCheck test strips in various combinations to check creatinine and pH levels, as well as nitrites and other commercial additives.

Data from Quest Diagnostics show that positive drug test results have decreased by 72% since 1988, when workplace testing became common. Experts attribute this reduction to the deterrent effect of the tests rather than successful cheating; habitual drug users shy away from applying for jobs that require testing.

According to Quest’s Sample, the data also show that over the past six years, the number of invalid and adulterated samples has remained constant at about 0.15%. That figure does not include altered samples that show a positive result despite the best efforts of the donor. “With adulterants, not everything is effective,” Sample said. “Even in the case of oxidants, they are only effective against the detection of marijuana and have no impact on amphetamines, cocaine, or PCP.”

Melody Voith/C&EN

In the clear Immunoassay drug screens can be performed at home with the help of kits from the pharmacy.

Because of the possibility of cheating, employers who want to ensure a drug-free workplace should work closely with their diagnostics labs and take advantage of new testing methods, Sample advised.

IF EMPLOYERS are concerned about substituted or synthetic urine, they should consider hair or saliva testing because sample collection can be observed, whereas sample collection for urine tests is usually not monitored. One notable benefit of hair tests is that drug residue stays in the hair shaft for 90 days, a far longer residence time than in urine.

Robert G. Miller, director of human resources for the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District, a pest control agency, agreed that hiring companies depend heavily on the expertise of their diagnostics lab partners. “Employers are not experts in drug testing and should not be,” he said. Miller’s agency works with hazardous pesticides and thus requires a safe working environment. “We are extremely dependent on the industrial lab,” he said. Miller suggested visiting the diagnostic lab’s facility to see how the testing is done and to review security procedures.

In his role as a member of SHRM’s Employee Health, Safety & Security Panel, Miller advises human resource managers about the necessity of providing a drug-free workplace. “The point of preemployment testing is to ensure that you are not buying a liability and to weed out those individuals that might have a propensity to drug use, which could lead to accidents on the job.”

Although today’s employers focus on controlling liability insurance and absentee worker costs, Miller sees a future for tests that monitor the lifestyles of prospective employees. “Anything external to the organization—tobacco, alcohol, and drug use that affects the employee’s wellness—may be something that employers restrict in hiring,” he said. Employers who offer health benefits have a vested interest in showing they have healthy employees, Miller said. “The line is going to get a little blurred on the responsibility of employees for their own private habits,” he predicted.

As trends in employee drug testing change, so will the market for products aimed at helping drug users avoid detection. Quest’s Sample continually monitors the Internet to stay abreast of the latest technologies. “That means Googling to find out what’s new, obtaining those products, and testing them to see what impact they have. We need to know what else is going on out there,” he said.

 "Here in the United States of America, we have no
meaningful program of drug testing for commercial truck drivers, 
- Peter A. DeFazio, Rep.
Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Highways & Transit 

The same can now be applied to our Nation’s mines.

The newly proposed MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration ) 
regulations attempting to manage drug & alcohol abuse in our Nation’s 
mining industry  appear to be the result of extreme compromise vs. 
objective investigation of existing information.

Basing the MSHA program upon DOT part 40 procedures effectively neuters any ability to provide a drug free workplace in the mining sector.  The net result is that we will continue to have drug abusers killing themselves and others in our mines, just like we have large haul truckers do the same daily on our Nation’s highways.

The Federal GAO has already clearly demonstrated the problems associated with DOT part 40 procedures which attempt to manage drug abuse in the trucking industry (as well as mass transit, commercial airlines, railways, oil&gas pipelines, and nuclear reactors).

Specifically require urine-based testing, as required by DOT part 40, can not, and does not effectively detect substance abuse in a workplace environment.

Any effective drug-free workplace testing must leverage observed specimen collection (only feasible with oral fluids), and on-the-spot specimen collection (if not on-site test devices).

Clearly better programs are required in the mining sector, as well as DOT, FFA, and other areas.  Unfortunately, the regulations proposed by MSHA will do little, it anything to mitigate workplace risk due to substance abuse.

The proposed MSHA regulation state  “ Alcohol- and drug-testing would need to be conducted
consistently with procedures incorporated by reference from  DOT part 40, except in those places
where specifically modified by this rule.”
1.            The only significant modification to DOT part 40, appears to be expanding the drug
classes to be tested.  Urine is still the required specimen type.   The Federal GAO,
and other independent experts have already reported on the fact the unobserved urine
collection is an effective procedures due to the fact that drug abusers will easily
adulterate or substitute their specimens.
2.            Because urine collection is so invasive and distasteful, the least skills and lowest
paid individuals are hired by urine testing laboratories and large TPAs (Third Party
Administrators) to collect urine specimens.  The results is that procedures are not
followed, and corruption of the system is rampant.
3.            The DOT part 40 regulation has an excessively  high cut-off level for opiates,
making it very ineffective in detecting opiate abuse.  Opiate abuse, specifically
prescription pain relievers is one of, if not the most serious safety drug safety issue
affecting the workplace and our schools today.   In fact, 1/3 of all large truck fatalities
had an associated factor of prescription drug use / misuse (FMSCA Annual Study).
Alternative specimen types, especially oral fluid, should be allowed in addition to urine. 
An skilled professionals, such as safety and risk management experts should be
administering on-site and laboratory oral fluid, urine and other tests.  


GAO Report (s)

GAO Investigation Finds Numerous Problems with DOT Drug Screening

[Posted 11/06/07] In testimony before the Congressional Subcommittee on Highways and Transit on November 1, 2007, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that “DOT’s drug testing program is vulnerable to manipulation by drug users.”

GAO’s undercover operation investigated 24 drug test collection sites in four large metropolitan areas across the country to determine if sites collecting urine samples were adhering to DOT collection protocols and whether commercially available products could be used to defeat drug tests. To conduct the investigation, GAO created two fictitious trucking companies with investigators posing as drivers.

Twenty-four publicly-advertised urine collection sites were investigated. Sixteen DOT protocols deemed to be the most critical for foiling an employee attempt to defeat a drug test were examined at each location. The GAO investigation revealed an alarming number of vulnerabilities.

Investigators successfully used bogus driver’s licenses to gain access to all 24 sites—demonstrating that a drug user could send someone else to take a drug test in his/her place using fake identification.

Most collection sites failed to comply with all DOT protocols. Twenty-two of the 24 collection sites inadequately followed DOT protocols. Deficiencies included:

  • failing to restrict access to materials (water, soap, bleach, air fresheners, etc.) that could be used to adulterate or dilute samples (75%);
  • failing to secure sources of water in the restroom (67%);
  • failing to have test subjects empty pockets to ensure there were no materials that could adulterate the specimen (42%);
  • failing to check the temperature of the specimen (19%);
  • failing to secure the toilet with tape or bluing agent (17%).

Commercially-available products can defeat drug tests. Synthetic urine and other adulterants readily available online can be used to tamper with samples. Companies that sell drug-masking products can access regulatory details on testing and validating urine specimens and use the information to ensure their products are not detected by laboratories.

Adulterants and synthetic urine were used at eight of the 24 collection sites. Investigators found it was easy to take drug-masking or substitution products into a collection room at each of the eight collection sites tested with such products. They were successful at every attempt to adulterate or substitute a urine sample.

Adulterants and substitutes were not detected by drug testing laboratories. Every drug-masking product tested went undetected by the drug screening labs—suggesting a drug user could receive a passing result on his/her test.

GAO investigators concluded that “a drug user could easily pass a DOT drug test and continue to work in his or her safety-sensitive commercial transportation job—driving children to school or transporting hazardous materials, for example.” They went on to say “improvements will need to be made in both the design of the entire process and the ability of collection site employees to adhere to current protocols.”

GAO will investigate options for improving DOT drug testing and report to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit in May 2008.

Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minnesota, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the report was “frankly astonishing and shocking and dismaying. You can manipulate the tests, you can mask substance abuse and go undetected on the roadways.” He noted that the drug-testing system was broken and was placing other drivers in danger.

It is estimated that somewhere between 1 percent and 10 percent of drivers of commercial or “big rig” trucks are operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol on any given day. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) believes the “positive” rate among truck drivers tested for drugs is about 2 percent to 2.5 percent. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis says the number is a little more than 1 percent. The state of Oregon, however, which has been conducting random tests of drivers on that state’s road since 1998, puts the figure at nearly 10 percent. The problem is no one really knows how big the problem really is, because effective testing modalities such as oral fluid technology are being circumvented by private interests such as large urine testing laboratories and TPAs (third party administrators).

How can the airlines ask for more time to administer drug tests, when in fact they should have been prepared for observed urine collections for the past decade or longer?  The ability and required to perform observed collections in certain situations has always been present.While recent “new regs” do call for more required observed specimen collections, the ONLY way to assure a valid test is an observed collection.
Airlines and the DOT / FAA, et al need to adopt newer, more suitable drug testing practices and technologies, including oral fluid based testing.
Do you really think that the airlines are going to comply with observed urine collections? They, like the trucking industry, have complied with federal regs for over a decade…. Why will they start now?
Airlines ask for time to comply with drug-testing rule

Source: ATA SmartBrief | 08/20/2008

The Air Transport Association and Regional Airline Association have petitioned the Department of Transportation to delay a rule requiring observers during urine collections for drug tests. The associations said more time is needed to hire and train test monitors who are the same gender as those being tested. Currently, it’s mostly women who collect the samples, while it’s mostly men submitting them.

On August 25, 2008 new U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”) drug and alcohol testing regulations become effective.

The new regulations amend or create new sections to 49 C.F.R. Part 40, and contain new or revised guidance on issues related to adulterated, substituted, diluted, and invalid urine specimens.

 While most of the new regulations address responsibilities of medical review officers, collectors and laboratories, employers in all DOT-regulated industries should be aware of the following requirements:

1. All return-to-duty and follow-up drug tests must be collected under direct observation.

2. The definition of “refusal to test” has been expanded to include the following:

  • admitting to the collector or MRO that the specimen was adulterated or substituted;
  • possessing or wearing a prosthetic or other device that could be used to interfere with the collection process; and
  • in the case of a directly observed or monitored collection in a drug test, failing to permit the observation or monitoring of the provision of a urine specimen, which now includes: failing to follow the observer’s instructions to raise clothing above the waist, lower clothing and underpants, and to turn around to permit the observer to determine whether there is any prosthetic or other device that could be used to interfere with the collection process.

3. Certain definitions have been revised, including definitions of “adulterated specimen,” “dilute specimen,” and “substituted specimen” (among others) and new definitions have been added for the terms “aliquot,” “limit of detection,” “non-negative specimen,” “oxidizing adulterant,” and “screening test.”


The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department has asked DOT to reconsider and stay implementation of the requirement that employees who previously received a positive test result for a banned drug provide urine specimens under direct observation as defined in the new regulation.  The TTD claims that DOT failed to afford the public proper notice and opportunity for comment prior to adopting the new rule, which it regards as exceedingly invasive.  A DOT spokesperson reportedly has said the agency will review the labor group’s request and take it under consideration.


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