Cheating On A Drug Test
on a drug test — Can it work?
When airport security caught Minnesota Vikings’ running back Onterrio Smith with a strange-looking device in his carry-on bag this spring, the “Whizzinator” became famous on sports radio and late night talk shows.
Those in the drug-testing business will tell you the existence of a prosthetic penis designed to beat a drug test — an apparent source of both shock and humor to the general public — was no surprise to them. Cheating on drug tests is big business these days, and the methods vary as much as the athletes.
“In addition to an array of products designed to dilute, cleanse, or substitute urine specimens submitted to testers by drug users, approximately 400 different products are available to adulterate urine samples,” said Robert J. Cramer, managing director of the office of special investigations for the U.S. Government Accountability Office, in his May report to Congress.
It’s also apparent that the products, though certainly used by athletes, are targeted to a wider population — those who are taking a drug test as part of a pre-employment screening or to maintain their jobs.
Drug testing began a rapid period of growth in 1986 with a federal effort to establish a drug-free federal workplace. Now, the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) estimates that there are more than 12 million U.S. employees who are subject to the Department of Transportation’s testing alone. Private industry also has expanded drug testing, with numerous companies requiring some type of drug test.
As drug testing has expanded, so has the effort to sell products to people wanting to cheat drug tests. And state regulation varies. According to the May U.S. Government Accounting Office report, several states prohibit the sale of devices or adulterants designed to defraud a drug test, and at least two states — Illinois and Kentucky — have made the offense a felony.
In early June, U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel (D-New York) introduced a bill that would “prohibit the manufacture, marketing, sale or shipment in interstate commerce of products designed to assist in defrauding a drug test.”
The bill has been referred to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce for further action. Unless that bill becomes law, there will be plenty of products from which to choose.
A device is available for women as well, but all devices of this type are observable by validators in a sports drug-testing environment.
“We’ve been aware of the Whizzinator, and devices like it, for a long time,” said Drug Free Sport’s Frank Uryasz. “It would not work in an NCAA test, or any other test administered by Drug Free Sport, because we do observed collections.”
Collectors for Drug Free Sport require that the athlete lower his shorts to his knees and raise his shirt to his armpits. In the course of conducting the test, validators ensure that there’s nothing attached around or behind the athlete.
“No device attached to the outside of the body would remain hidden from view,” Uryasz said. “Those devices are really intended for workplace testing, which is not observed. We train our collectors to observe the urine stream from the athlete into the beaker.”
Uryasz said he’s not aware of any athlete in the collegiate ranks who has attempted to wear any type of external device to fool a drug test.
“They know we’re going to watch carefully, so they don’t try that,” he said. “If we didn’t do direct observation, we’d be inviting all types of cheating.”
The NFL’s Smith denied the device was his, and he also denied that he intended to use it to defraud a drug test. NFL officials have stated that players are supervised when they produce a sample.
However, former NFL Dolphin Rob Konrad, who retired in May, told the Palm Beach Post the device might have worked to foil an NFL test.
“Looking back, it probably would work,” Konrad said. “If you have somebody else’s urine that’s clean, and the tester doesn’t do the job of watching, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work.”
One athlete in the Athens Olympics is said to have attempted to defraud the test with a complex device that was not readily apparent. The athlete had a bulb of urine stowed in his rectum, with clear plastic tubing laced between his legs and attached underneath his penis. A valve permitted him to squeeze the bulb and appear to be urinating into a beaker.
“That’s not so obvious,” Uryasz said. “If you’re not watching carefully, you could miss that device. That’s why it’s so important to train collectors to observe every athlete closely.”
Other men have attempted to hide urine-filled condoms in their hands, attempting to give the appearance of urination.Women have different options, including the potential to hide something internally.
“Women could have something internally or something behind them,” Uryasz said. “As to preventing the use of something internally, again it’s a matter of close observation, both with your eyes and your ears.”
Athletes also have been rumored to use catheters to remove their urine and replace it with clean urine.
“Catheterization typically requires the assistance of medical personnel,” Uryasz said. “And, you continue to produce your own urine, so depending on how much time passes between the catheterization and the test, you might end up with too much of your own urine anyway.”
Uryasz also points out that competition testing, for the NCAA and other organizations, occurs right after the contest, making catheterization difficult.
“Does catheterization work? Absolutely,” Uryasz said. “It’s really going to the most extreme measures to beat your drug test.”
“It’s the reason some organizations have gone to no-notice testing,” he said, noting that if collectors believe there is a possibility of catheterization, they can reject the first urine sample the athlete produces.
“You’ve got to figure out how to add it to the sample either before urinating or after,” Uryasz said. “The reason we use beakers with lids that close and seal is to make adding adulterants more difficult. “Some organizations use open beakers, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Athletes must remove any bulky clothing, and collectors are always on the lookout for vials or containers that might contain either an adulterant or someone else’s urine.
The onsite tests for specific gravity and pH help determine if something is strange with a sample, but sometimes it’s just a matter of observation.
“I’ve seen athletes urinate over their fingers in an attempt to introduce some kind of substance into the urine. When that occurs, we make them stop, wash their hands and start over,” Uryasz said.
“Beginning next academic year, the NCAA testing protocol will change to require student-athletes to wash their hands before providing a sample,” said Michelle Dorsey, account manager with Drug Free Sport.
“It’s a simple
way to prevent attempts to introduce an adulterant.”
Athletes looking to cheat might be tempted to purchase products sold over the Internet or in health food stores that are touted to “flush” the substance out of their system. “There are a ton of masking agents on the market. Most of them require the athlete to drink copious amounts of fluid and the product actually does nothing,” Uryasz said. “The athlete will produce a diluted urine sample that is almost water.” The answer to that type of cheating? Do a specific-gravity test onsite to ensure that the sample is concentrated enough for the laboratory. “In the testing we do for the NCAA and other organizations, the athlete is required to produce a concentrated sample. If the sample is too dilute, the athlete must remain at the testing site until he or she can produce a concentrated sample,” Uryasz said. Diuretics, which cause the body to produce more urine, often simply cause dilute samples. And, the NCAA, USOC and many other organizations ban diuretics. So the athlete who uses a diuretic might test negative for the substance she was trying to hide but test positive for the diuretic. The net result is the same.
“In NCAA testing, our collectors see some kind of cheating attempts a couple of times a year,” said Andrea Wickerham, legal relations and policy director for Drug Free Sport.
“Most recently, our collectors caught an athlete trying to substitute someone else’s urine,” Wickerham said. “The athlete dropped the vial and the collector saw it.”
During NCAA tests, the penalty for adulterating, manipulating or otherwise cheating on a drug test is the same as a positive test. Each institution sets its own policies for cheating, but those that work with Drug Free Sport treat cheating exactly like a positive test.
“If you want to address cheating, you have to penalize it just as you would a positive test,” Wickerham said. “In many ways, it’s worse than a positive because you’ve shown a clear intent to violate the rules.”
So, does cheating work?
always a possibility that someone is ingesting a new substance that the laboratory
can’t find yet,” Uryasz said. “But most of the common ways
to cheat aren’t effective. Most of the time, people are just spending
their money on a product that’s either way too obvious or simply flavored