Synthetic urine being used to pass drug screenings on the rise

Published: Jun. 30, 2016 at 5:07 PM CDT
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It's becoming somewhat of a nationwide epidemic -- people using synthetic or 'fake' urine to pass drug screenings.

With the click of a mouse, virtually anyone can purchase synthetic urine online and have it shipped to their home. Difficult to detect, it is something drug screening facilities and labs all over are battling on a daily basis.

"I think the issue that we have industry-wide is that we kind of are going up against street chemists. And what street chemists do is that they're constantly taking a look at a way to alter certain drugs or alter things like synthetic urine to stay a step ahead of the chemists that we use in our labs to identify these issues," said Dustin Rhody, clinic manager of Workforce Occupational Health.

Rhody says the molecular makeup of synthetic urine is often almost identical to that of real urine.

"What you really have is two really smart people playing a game of chess trying to determine 'how can I beat the system' and 'how can I get those cheaters caught,'" said Rhody.

"I'm not surprised because when it comes to drug users, they're always trying to find a way how to beat the system," said Dr. Cameron Murphy, Medical Review Officer at Workforce Occupational Health.

Dr. Murphy says there's a loophole in the process. Only in specific instances are the collectors able to watch a person physically deliver their specimen. Other than than, they can only listen for anything unusual.

To see how collection specialists inspect what is considered real urine, Workforce Occupational Health specialist Angela Langrehr showed us.

"What I'm going to do next is I'm going to check to make sure it is the right temperature. So it is the right temperature. Every bar must be there. If there's a bar missing, that's how you know that 'okay, this cup has to be sent to the lab for further testing,'" said Langrehr.

While it's not illegal in South Dakota to purchase or use synthetic urine, if you are using it during a drug screening, you automatically fail the test. You then have to deal with the consequences from your employer, which could mean being passed over for a job or losing your current one.

Dr. Murphy says it's up to the employer to have strong drug policies. While someone can prepare for a pre-employment drug screening, random drug screenings make it more difficult to do so.

"So if they've only got 20 or 30 minutes to get to Workforce, or some other occupational health facility, it's going to be much harder to track down a specimen to use -- whether it's someone else's or a synthetic urine," said Dr. Murphy.

Dr. Murphy says the reality is that this will always exist. As lab chemists keep finding ways to detect synthetic urine, those so-called 'street chemists' will keep changing their product as well.

Although there is no legislation addressing synthetic urine in South Dakota, Attorney General Marty Jackley says if it were to be used in a parole or probationary setting where urine samples are being taken, it would likely result in either a parole or probation violation and revocation.

Jackley says there are at least seven states that do have a specific statute or law addressing the use of synthetic urine.