Pubdate: Mon, 11 Apr 2005
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2005 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: John Sutherland, The Guardian
Bookmark: (Drug Test)


It's hard not to feel a sneaking sympathy for Tom Sizemore. An actor
of moderate talents and bad habits, Tom is one of the hundreds of
thousands of Californians obliged to take a daily drug test. In his
case it's a condition of probation. Clean pee: stay free.

For others, with no criminal record, the morning bottle is as routine
as the metal detector and full-body wipedown at the airport. The
amount of urine provided daily by the drug-tested of California would
float the Queen Mary (currently at anchor in Long Beach).
Schoolchildren are tested. So are transport employees, job applicants,
athletes, cops, prisoners; indeed, any employee in a "drug-free
workplace" that intends to protect itself against negligence suits.

For his daily sample, Sizemore slung an artificial penis called the
"Whizzinator" round his loins and whizzed hopefully. No luck. The
probation officer wasn't fooled (perhaps there was more size than
usual). There is plentiful lore among kids about how to pass, fake or
spoil the test. In the days when I was an anxious parent in
California, one knew that drug-wise offspring often used LSD in
preference to marijuana because "fry" was flushed out of the system in
a day, whereas weed lingered in the urine for a month. Clean piddle is
traditionally supplied by girlfriends. Keeping the stuff at a precise
95 degrees is a problem (the canny parent wields a thermometer). Ten
seconds in the microwave will do it - but that can be awkward. There
is matching awkwardness for the parent. Prince Charles might have no
qualms about a flunky pressing a flask to HRH John Thomas, but few
adults like to accompany children to the toilet and fiddle with their
private parts - it can lead to ugly accusations.

You can't (yet) reliably do the testing at home and there has been a
boom in Nida (National Institute of Drug Abuse) certified labs, which
offer standard Emit (Enzyme Multiple Immunoassay Test) urinalysis at a
few cents. You get what you pay for, of course, and pennies won't get
you state-of-the-art testing.

Professional athletes - with princely salaries at stake - cheat
best.The baseball stars, whose drug-enhanced performances have
recently scandalised fans, were caught not by testers but by their
main suppliers being busted.

The most strenuous drug tests are faced by workers in the casino
industry, which uses hair and saliva screening - expensive but more
reliable than urinalysis. Human hair contains an archaeological record
of (virtually) any illegal substance taken - going back years, if the
strands are long enough. Saliva tests can be done with maximum
randomness, on the spot. And no Whizzinator shenanigans.

The web has become a battleground between the testers, offering ever
more unbeatable tests, and the cheaters, offering ever more effective
flushing. The site for example, will send
you their "30-Minute Quick Shot" for a mere $89+pp. It is, they claim,
"the fastest-working urine cleanser of its kind anywhere for heavy
toxin use". For similar sums, you can buy "detoxifying" shampoos and
"Spit 'N' Kleen Mouthwash" for saliva tests.

Do they work? Pharmacologists I have spoken to doubt it. But
authorities are taking no chances. As governor of Texas, George Bush
outlawed "products with the sole purpose of creating negative results
on urine tests".

More interesting than the hucksters are the libertarian websites that
instruct how to cheat out of pure idealism. For example, blazons a motto from Abraham Lincoln - a president
who felt rather differently on matters of personal freedom than George
Bush. "Prohibition," declared Lincoln, "goes beyond the bounds of
reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation
and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law
strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was

I'm with Honest Abe. But it's tricky. Who would want to hear on
take-off: "Hello folks, I'm your captain today and I'm already high"?
On the other hand, the irresistible spread of the drug test reflects a
breakdown of trust. It's corrosive, invasive, pervasive and downright
horrible. Pass through the airport scanner and you are, momentarily, a
suspect bomber. Browse in a bookshop and the CCTV camera regards you
as a suspect thief. Go home, and your parents treat you as a suspect
junky. Presumption of innocence? Forget it: this is the post 9/11
world. Open your flies and whizz. In God we Trust, runs the Great
American Slogan. All others will be tested.
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MAP posted-by: Derek