How Some Candidates Try – And Fail – To Beat A Drug Test

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If you Google “how to beat a drug test” you’ll get a ton of hits. If you’re in HR or a hiring manager, you can usually assume that’s exactly what a percentage of your applicants will do.

But beating a drug test isn’t as easy as it once was. Today’s advanced drug screening technologies and specimen options are much more difficult to subvert. However, some candidates still try to “beat” their tests by taking a number of measures, including:

  • Temporarily Ceasing Using Drugs
  • Tampering With the Sample
  • Flushing Their Systems
  • Shaving Their Hair – All of It
  • Washing With Special Shampoo
  • Using Someone Else’s Sample

Watch: HireRight’s Drug Testing State of the Union

Despite these efforts to beat drug tests, there are ways to identify illicit drug users if you have a comprehensive and effective drug testing program in place. Here are three best practices for a candidate or employee drug testing program to detect illicit drug use even in those trying to cheat the system:

Conduct Random and Reasonable Suspicion Testing

If you suspect that employees are using illegal drugs or substances in the workplace, randomized drug tests can be administered. This will prevent the user from preparing for the test by using the methods mentioned above.  Also, train your managerial staff to notice and document articulable, contemporaneous, observations of illicit drug use and/or impairment, and when these observations are noted, immediately test pursuant to your policy.

Use Trained Collectors and Certified Labs for the Entire Testing Process

Often when individuals have attempted to add a chemical or change the sample, there are easy ways for a qualified expert to tell that the specimen has been adulterated. For example, the presence of bubbly urine (i.e., soap in the specimen).  Other chemicals change the specimen to different colors – such as a blue-green urine sample, which is obviously suspicious.

If a urine sample is too clear, that’s also an indication that the person may have flushed their system and further testing may be warranted. Trained collectors will document those types of physical characteristics on the chain of custody to alert the lab that is testing the specimen of potential issues.

Certified labs test for pH levels, specific gravity, creatinine, and the presence of oxidizing agents to determine if a urine specimen falls into the normal range. If not, that’s an indication that the sample may have been tampered with and further confirmation testing of a specimen is necessary.

Test Other Specimen Types

Urine samples are the most common specimens collected for drug testing, most likely because of their track record of accurate testing results. However, other specimen types, such as hair and oral fluid, are more difficult to subvert.

Employers may consider using different methods of testing, either instead of, or in addition to urine, in their drug screening program For example, hair testing is accurate, very difficult to subvert, and offers the longest detection window available (up to 90 days), which allows companies to identify long-term or habitual drug users even if they stop using in the days prior to testing. Some candidates can try to subvert hair testing by using special shampoos, but these products tend to be ineffective and only work for certain hair types.

Oral fluid testing is a good alternative sample as it’s practically impossible to subvert the test results. The detection window for oral fluid is very small (it only detects drug usage within 1-2 days after use), but it’s ideal for post-accident screening and reasonable suspicion testing as it can help to identify whether a person was impaired within a specific time frame.

Both of these alternate testing specimens yield an increase in positive results over that which is found through urine testing alone.

Although there are many tricks that candidates using illegal drugs or substances can try to use to beat a drug test, a comprehensive drug testing program can help employers identify and protect themselves from the risks associated with having these candidates in their workforce.

Would you like to learn more about building an effective drug-screening program? Download our free ebook now.

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Dr. Todd Simo

Dr. Simo is the Chief Medical Officer and the Managing Director of Transportation at HireRight. He served as HireRight’s Medical Director starting in 2009 and was promoted to Chief Medical Officer in 2015. Dr. Simo was also appointed to the role of Managing Director of Transportation in 2018. Dr. Simo came to HireRight with a decade of experience in the medical consulting arena. Before that he was Medical Director at an occupational health clinic in Virginia and owned a consulting firm providing medical director services to employers across the United States.

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