DENVER -- Recreational marijuana users in Colorado reportedly are causing a surge in the sale of synthetic urine.
As employers continue to try to catch drug-using employees, workers are getting smarter about how to beat the system.
Illinois, Arkansas and Maryland have banned the sale, possession or use of synthetic urine and other methods of subverting employee drug tests.
But products that have a primary purpose of helping drug users pass employment screenings are legal in Colorado.
Does the stuff actually work?
The simple answer is yes. The chemical properties in the premixed urea are nearly identical to the real deal. Many are specially formulated for a balanced pH and have elements, like creatinine, added.
And in three real scenario blind test, the FOX31 Denver Problem Solvers were able to send fake urine through pre-employment screening labs on several occasions and get “all clear” drug results.
Premixed urea is a popular item. It can be bought at just about any tobacco shop or marijuana dispensary.
The Problem Solvers bought a product called Quick Fix Plus. The kit comes with a bottle of synthetic urine, a heating pad and a temperature strip.
The instructions said to use a microwave for 10 seconds to warm the mixture "prior to your test.”
After doing that, we sent undercover testers into two Quest Diagnostics offices for a pre-employment screening. Quest is one of the largest pre-employment screening companies in the country.
Undercover tests successful
In the undercover test at the Denver Broadway location, personnel failed to catch us turning in a synthetic sample, then the Quest lab failed to identify the mixture as fake. The tester received an “all clear” notice from his employer a few days later.
John Hodge of Drug Testing Services Inc. was not surprised. He said more people are cheating than ever before.
“We’ve had people who come in who have taped urine under their pants leg, in their socks,” Hodge said. “We’ve had people who come in with urine in their underwear because they know that we do not strip search people for testing.”
He said over the past year, he has seen a significant rise in the percentage of clients trying to cheat.
“If I want to keep my job, stay employed, and my employer is testing, I got to know how I can beat that test,” Hodge said. “Your professional drug using folks over time learn how to perfect the use of these products to make it effective.”
Hodge said from a science standpoint, Synthetic Quick Fix is tough to detect in the inexpensive five- or eight-panel drug screening used by most employers. He believes the best way to stop cheating is to catch the client at the sample collection site, but there are still many ways for that to fail.
For starters, it’s typically against policy for collectors to watch the process directly for pre-employment screenings. There are cases where monitoring does occur during drug testing for criminals on probation or parole.
Another way fake tests got through
We found another way that fake tests get through: A corrupt drug test employee.
Several undercover testers tried to pass off synthetic urine as real at the Thornton Quest Diagnostics branch. Employee Travis Kear picked up on the synthetics right away, but instead of failing the samples, he extorted money in return for a negative drug screening test.
In a recorded conversation, Kear told an undercover tester he knew the sample wasn’t real “because there is no smell to it. There's no urea smell. There's no, and usually, that color? Specifically, it's very ... it's, it's the first thing that comes up. And even though people sometimes get it in the right temperature range, it's too light. You made it too hot, so, like I said -- don't, don't worry. Don't stress out. I'm pretty corrupt.”
Kear said to bring him $50 by the end of the day and he would make sure the synthetic urine was replaced with a clean sample. He was given the money and a notice of a passing test was received within a few days.
It remains unclear if Kear submitted his own (and drug-free) urine sample for the undercover testers who paid him or whether he let the synthetic samples go through and the lab failed to catch the fake material.
Either way, both testers who submitted fake urine at the Thornton office passed their drug screening without providing a valid urine sample.
Quest Diagnostics fired Kear after hearing about the shakedown and launched an investigation into how often he might have helped clients falsely pass a test. Thornton police and federal authorities are also investigating.
Regardless of how that turns out, the truth of the matter is that all three attempts to pass drug tests with synthetic urine were successful.