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October 2006
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The Ethically Challenged Drug Testing Industry

Some time ago, I talked about the fact (I can’t find the post right now) that some courts, employers and certification review boards were using a controversial testing system that measures the presence of ethyl glucuronide or EtG — a metabolite of alcohol that stays in the blood. People were losing jobs, children, and freedom over failed tests. The problem is that the test is subject to all kinds of false positives from things as silly as using a hand sanitizer or drinking apple juice.
Scientists have known for some time that the test was not reliable for this kind of use, yet the testing companies sold it to anyone who wanted to use it and touted its accuracy.
Take a look at just one of the many drug testing companies’ claims:

The presence of EtG in urine is a definitive indicator that alcohol was ingested…. Ideal for zero tolerance and abstinence situations… Expert witness and affidavit services available… provides highly accurate results.

Uh… not so much.
SAMHSA has now issued an advisory (pdf) about EtG testing:

Currently, the use of an EtG test in determining abstinence lacks sufficient proven specificity for use as primary or sole evidence that an individual prohibited from drinking, in a criminal justice or a regulatory compliance context, has truly been drinking. Legal or disciplinary action based solely on a positive EtG, or other test discussed in this Advisory, is inappropriate and scientifically unsupportable at this time. These tests should currently be considered as potential valuable clinical tools, but their use in forensic settings is premature.

In today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription)

Whether the agency’s warning will help these people reclaim the jobs that some lost after flunking EtG tests is unclear. In any case, the warning is a blow to the credibility of the $4 billion-a-year urine-testing industry, which introduced the EtG test two years ago as offering fail-safe proof of alcoholic-beverage consumption.

This is an out-of-control industry that is using the government to insert itself into our lives for its profit.

[Thanks to a reader]

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