White Paper: Drug Testing Results Often Inaccurate, Unreliable

[Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from next week’s forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML’s news alerts and legislative advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up here.]

Drug screening results, including those from federally certified labs, may not always be reliable, according to a white paper published online this week by the National Workrights Institute.

“[Government] certified drug testing laboratories have significant reliability problems and that the government’s assurances that false positive test results are a thing of the past is untrue,” the paper concludes.

The NWI paper bases its conclusion on several key findings. These include:

• “The accuracy of certified labs has never been tested.”

• Government certified labs do not “consistently followed federally mandated procedures for lab accuracy.”

• Federal regulations “allow labs to make mistakes on ten percent of the blind samples used in the certification process.

• “[C]ertified labs do not always maintain a proper chain of custody.”

According to the paper, documented examples of errors by federally certified labs are not uncommon. It finds, “In the last four years alone, one laboratory had its certification revoked and three others had their certification suspended.”

The paper acknowledges that federally certified labs are likely to yield more reliable results than non-certified facilities, but cautions that their procedures may still inadvertently produce false positive results.

Full text of the paper, “Latest Research Reveals New Problems With Drug Testing,” is available online here.

53 thoughts

  1. Any half decent lawyer will be able to SMASH such test results with the greatest of ease. Although, as we have seen countless times — Government corruption will ensure that no matter what is done in the court of law that it will not go against their own corrupt agenda. We are left with no other choice but to give the Government the ‘BIG Fuck you’.

  2. I still don’t understand how employment drug screening (urine test) is legal. Is this not a violation of our charter of rights ( in canada ) bill of rights in usa?

  3. I’m wondering how two people can go and get drug tested and have different results,a positive and a negative, after they smoked the same thing on the way to get tested.

  4. The link to full text of the paper appears to be broken.

    [Paul Armentano responds: The link is fine. It takes you to the pdf file of the paper. You can also log on to:


    Click ’employee screening.’ Click ‘drug tsting.’ Click ‘new information.’]

  5. What about false negatives?…I have taken low dose opiods for chronic back pain every single day for years, yet have come back with negative results on several occasions from certified labs, which has caused me undue suffering & makes no sense. I also tested negative for marijuana, though I smoke it often. Makes no sense at all.

  6. Not surprised at all. They have been ruining honest hard working American families lives for years under the false pretense of “work place saftey”.

  7. Drug testing is seriously important to marijuana legalization. Although the effect is smokers usually are more careful at the wheel, it’s still an issue of concern.

  8. The FEDERAL DEATH AUTHORITY protected under wings of FEDERALISM and the defenders of the STATUS QUO will find loopholes under their control and make short cuts to approve drug testing another way to control our lives on what we ingest. Look at all the BIG PHARMA drugs being put on the market that have side effects. Don’t think that DRUG TESTING runs through the FDA without side effects of false positives. This war against marijuana users have created another market for greed. POLICE STATE tactics at its best. Just another tool for BIG BROTHER and UNICORNIZATION OF AMERICAN PEOPLE. HAIL THE MONARCHY!

  9. This reminds me of an incident that happened to me back around 2002.

    I applied for a job at Silverline Windows and Doors processing plant , package and ship off the units, at the time I was not smoking and had to go for a drug test the following two Mondays. Well, a couple friends popped over with a few blunts.

    Well, I completely forgot about the testing that was coming up, I smoked up then recalled about the testing then was like oh shit! “pot really makes you forget? in my case, No!”

    Well, I went in of the day for the testing, and guess what, I passed and got the job!

    Dunno if the doctors ignored the tests or what really happened but I was in shock as I was for sure I was not gonna get the job!

    Smoked up, took the test and got the job. Maybe they were looking for other drugs than pot? I have no idea but I was excited.

    What does this say about the failure of drug testing?

  10. My girlfriend works at a fed authorized drug testing facility in SoCal. They test many entities, but what intrigues me most as an MD is what they DO NOT test and whom. They Do Not screen SD transit employees (bus drivers etc) for hydrocodone, aka vicodin. This is the top blackmarket prescription drug, an opiod usually over prescribed for low back pain or chronic pain in general. Your SD bus route may be stationed by an addict who gets it legally or illegally, and can easily be impaired while driving. The more you know, the more twisted this world gets. If we hold ourselves accountable for our own actions first, we are on our way to the solution. Good and evil is within each of us, so look inwardly for salvation. You can always find conspiracies, but what are you doing to make yourself better?

  11. I saw the ‘Myth Busters’ test positive for heroin after eating a single bagel. It sure seems to me that there is plenty of cause for a class action suit against the entire industry.

  12. Our government is a joke. Everyone who believes that marijuana should be legal needs to speak up about it. I have been talking about it for years now, and have several of my coworkers convinced that the federal stance on marijuana is not justified. If enough people can stand for legality, it will happen. Speak up people, and don’t stand for stupidity!

  13. It is amazing what the truth will do to people when you expose them to it. Take this hypothetical example for instance: I sit two people down at a table, and give one a gallon of whiskey and the other an ounce of pot. I instruct the first to drink the whole gallon overnight, and the other to smoke the whole ounce overnight. Who do you think will be alive in the morning to tell me about their experience? This hypothetical scenario hits home with EVERYONE!!!

  14. In the so-called beacon of liberty, the human experiment of how people should be governed with personal responsibility, moral excellence, and liberty as free members of a society whose government exists to *serve the people* and not serve themselves (those elected officials with the money to get elected because money is the #1 deciding factor, because of media costs, even when people vote as individuals). principally guiding agents.

    In this beacon of liberty a person can be imprisoned for having in possession, a bag of dried flowers that has been described as medicine for almost as long as any written or drawn depictions meant to portray or pass on information of great significance. Cannabis has been described as medicine for over 5000+ years of recorded history.

    In some countries, this plant, which cannot be blamed for a single death, and is physically impossible to overdose on (there is no lethal dose rating because it is impossible to reach that number by any means of consumption or ingestion)…. just having the plant in your possession will get you a fine in the the thousands, a felony conviction, imprisonment, or lifetime stigmatization as a “criminal”

    You know what? the only criminals are prohibitionists and politicos who maintain the status quo of an absurdly unjust law. The cannabis prohibition is an unjust and pointless, corrupt law.

    That means the federal agencies and courts and lawyers and special interests who make a “living” off this nonsense are the real criminals. They spend their days jailing their partners in crime, the drug dealers. A Cat and Mouse game where both create artificially, the income of the other. First it creates organized crime, and then it chases it around, at taxpayer expense.

    What a joke.

    The country is trillions in national debt that started with claims that a (fake) arms race to build more and more nukes, in a numbers pissing contest, is a sane policy. R. Reagan worked for GE his whole life and he was the one who made up the stupid arms race, “MAD.” which basically acknowledged it was failure-making policy, by definition.

    The debt started with Reagan. It came from the fake arms race, a huge snowball that started rolling and, by all appearances, especially with for-profit prisons and contracted (para)militaries fighting wars in order to occupy.

    “Change” “Yes we can” The executive is controlled by the military industrial media complex. Eisenhower warned of it and it is the only way to explain how four presidents could not stop the carpet bombing campaign of genocide in Vietnam, when they were not enemies.

    Weapons makers make profit. Weapons are used on people who are “enemies.” Make up more enemies, make more weapons and profit. Thanks a lot GE, General Dynamics, Bechtel, Halliburton, Blackwater

    And they can’t even start by fixing the annual budget, which is without doubt, the necessary first thing to do in order to get rid of debt. But it seems, the people who control the executive, are not concerned with such trivialities.

    Is there any surprise that in a warring culture (it sucks to realize that you, YOUR COUNTRY, is the bad guy) that attacks unprovoked, just to make a profit, with a ridiculously overgrown bureaucracy, an essentially harmless dried flower, also known as medicine, is considered a danger and a crime, by possession or use?

    No. it’s not a surprise

  15. added costs of running a business that gain the employer absolutely nothing in return except maybe a suspended, terminated or “rehabilitated” employee. The same people that are howling about government’s supposed unnecessary interference with [big] businesses are the ones that promote this government policy. Money spent on drug testing, and it’s considerable, is money that could be going into your paycheck.

  16. Before, I was extra careful at work bc only got tested if in an accident or injury
    Then random came along and I had to abstain(no big withdrawl problems)then I was more reckless and chance taking bc I was clean. So in some cases random testing can lead to an less safe enviroment.

  17. Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at just how inaccurate drug testing is, as I personally long ago accepted the fact that essentially 100% of everything even related to our war on drugs is nonsensical and backwards, and I consider our system of drug testing to be a part of it.

    I suppose I should mention that I understand in some situations on the job it’s important to the safety of others that an individual be as lucid as possible. I get that. But only in a place so full of ignorant, hypocritical, misinformed individuals (and crooked ‘war profiteers’ who do their best to cultivate those beliefs) could a conversation like the following could possible even come close to occurring;

    “Well, the test won’t tell us if they’re actually impaired, but it’ll tell us whether or not they’ve used various drugs in a range from a few days ago to around two or three weeks ago depending on the drug. Oh yeah, and if they used withing the last hour or two, meaning they are actually freshly impaired, there’s a good chance the test won’t pick it up because it won’t be in their urine yet. So there’s a very small chance it’ll actually accomplish our goal. What do you think?”

    “Eh, close enough”

    Then again I’m sure it’s fairly obvious to anyone who examines attitudes towards drug use even more so in the past, but in the present as well, that it’s no accident that the most common forms of drug testing picks up drug use even when it was done days to weeks beforehand.

    In my mind it’s plain to see that in many cases it’s also an effective form of discrimination for companies; whether or not an individual can function on the job may be a small part of it, but if that was the case random drug testing wouldn’t be necessary. Managers and such would just receive training in spotting the signs of impairment, and shorter term tests (as in they test drug use in the much shorter term) would be administered in the case of work place accident (like they already do many times) and in the case of an employee being obviously impaired to the point that their work suffers.

    But on the job impairment IS a small part of it; the larger part of why it’s so prevalent is because it’s an effective tool for employers to shove their way into people’s personal lives, and figure out whether or not they’re a ‘dirty dope addict’ (they’d call em’ that whether they were actually addicted to heroin, or just a marijuana user most likely).

    Our system of drug testing is in place to discriminate against and intimidate drug users, regardless of how competent they are otherwise. Our war on drugs is bathed in prejudice and hatred, whether that be towards minorities, supporters or user themselves. The way we do drug testing is just a product of that. There’s no other explanation for how such a system could be deemed acceptable otherwise.

  18. Drug testing violates the fourt amendment and is an intrusive self incriminating chemical loyalty oath. Why does the quality of a persons bodily fluids are valued more then the quality their work?
    Drug testing is rife with false positives and is nothing more then a ruse to create the impression that one is drug free. If you smoke tobacco or drink coffee and pass the test how can you be drug free? The white paper study is accurate and exposes the truth about an industry that is full of mistakes and to hold those false results against an individual is slanderous to say the least.

  19. employers have every right to test for drug use on the job! that being said, it should not inhibit our rights when we leave said workplace. screw this hair and piss testing! why arent we perfecting saliva testing.i have not heard a thing about it for awhile now. are their any updates? saliva testing would give employers peace of mind that workers are not buzzed up on the job and , we get to have a private life! i have missed the quality effects of cannabis for three years now because of random testing. i am trying to get people to bombard the company h.r. with letters about this stuff. it is damn tuff to get that to happen. people want to consume the remedy but, wont stand up for it. we must find a way to get thru to people that dont know. speak up people. you wait , some of you who may have to stop huffin to keep a decent job!! if your too chicken shit to speak, write letters dammit. just do something!!!!peace to you all..huff some for me huh?….

  20. The drug test is like getting a Yes or No answers from the magic 8 Ball.

    lol love this comparison

  21. I am wondering when the politicians will realize that you could, if you wanted, smoke a 1/4 oz. of pot and still drive a car and not kill anyone because of it. You may think I am crazy but I have done this at times “in the day” and had no problem driving. Drinking and driving ,which is illegal, will cause a death or two everytime. Pot is NOT a gateway drug…if you indulge in stronger “drugs” it is a choice not because you started with Pot, I know cuz I went there and paid the price of jail not for very long but I was there. I have been “clean” from all drugs including alcohol for 17 years. Pot I do not consider a “drug”persay but an alternative to control my anxiety,and sleeplessness since my daughters death 2 1/2 yrs ago. So legalize marijuana hell ya even if it is only for medical reasons.
    Talk about fixing the deficit in the world wide budget..done when the government takes over the selling of pot and puts the taxes on it .

  22. Drug testing is nothing but another profit making scam. It’s not about “safety,” in fact tyrants throughout history have always used the guise of “safety” to trample on the liberties of the people. The best way to end this disgusting infringement of our liberties is for everyone to simply refuse to take a drug test. If everybody did this, then it could never be implemented. I was forced to take a drug test in the Air Force back in 1985, thanks to the fascist Ronald “Runaround” Reagan, the man largely responsible for this crap. It really pissed me off, I did not appreciate being treated like a criminal when I had a spotless record during my military service. I made a vow that I would never again be subjected to such humiliating treatment, that I would never again piss in a bottle for anybody, and I have stuck with that to this very day. Whenever I go for a job interview, if they bring up the drug test crap, I tell them that what I do on my own time is none of their damn business and get up and walk out, no matter how good paying the job may be. Currently I have a part time day job at a non-piss test company, but the main thing I got going is that I am in the process of starting my own business. I am setting up a shop in my garage and I have a good product and a good marketing strategy and I should do very well at it. It is a unique product I make, yet is a commonly used item, and there is no competition at all for what I’m making. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no longer any employers out there who are worth working for, most of them don’t pay anything, they expect you to bust your ass, and to add insult to injury, they want you to take a piss test. Screw ’em, they can kiss my ass! I’m just going to work for myself from now on, and my business will be free of regulations, income taxes (it’s a cash business) and most of all, no piss tests! I’m going to do it my way, and I will no longer answer to the government or any communist corporations. Dare to be free!

  23. I once hurt my back at work and was ordered to take a piss test but wasn’t too concerned because I hadn’t toked in several months. I miraculously tested positive for cannabis and was fired. That was when I decided that I will have no affiliation with any organization that wipes their ass with the fourth amendment. I would rather die starving in a ditch then work for these bastards. If everyone refused to surrender their unalienable rights they would all go bankrupt and be forced to give up their obsession with piss.

  24. What about the people who buy synthetic urine to beat the test??????????? You can’t tell me no one does this. I know it happens as I have seen it through another friend. So if we all buy this, we all can pass, then what!!!???

  25. I have to give urine sample every month at my pain clinic. On my last test it was left in a bathroom where I seen two people go into. My test came back neg. for one of meds. which I take everyday. It was sent to lab for confirmation but I did not get results yet. What upsets me is that the doctors believe that these lab test are infalible. So what can you do when your test comes back neg. or postive when you know that it is wrong? Also have had people show up positive for cocaine use and were allowed to stay with this pain Dr. I guess he just picks and chooses who he likes and gets rid of the ones that he doesn’t or that do not have health ins. Really scary when your quality of life is at stake when it comes to drug testing. I am in pain constantly and without my pain meds. I cannot work or have any type of life.Something needs to be done about this, it can ruin a persons life with just one mistake.

  26. All drug testing needs to be stopped. None of these work the way the state. I live in a state that it is legal with Drs. permission. But if you have your paperwork and apply for a job and it shows up positive you will beable to get the job even though you are legal. They discrimate against anyone using pot for pain purposes. I do not believe these tests do any good to prove anything. If someone wants to use anothers urine for testing like a friends who they know is clean what is this going to do. With testing not reliable than it should not be permitted. Only the companies that make these test and Drs. profit from these.

  27. I was fired due to a false positive result from one of those instant pee in a cup tests. I had the tech that was doing the tests at work seal up the sample, sign chain of custody forms and fedex that exact sample to alere labs for full analsys. the contractor who was doing the onsite testing is called D.D.I. out of bell chase, louisiana, DO NOT REAL WITH THEM OR YOU MAY END UP LIKE ME!!! alere results came back totally clean! Didnt matter by then, it took like 3 weeks, I still have no job 🙁

  28. Thank you so much for the information. I am concerned about the way we are controlling the drug problem in this country. Depending on your popularity, their is empathy towards the drug offenders. The athlete drug testing is improving in not allowing athletes to participate in drugs. Keep up the great posts. http://www.smrtl.org/

  29. is it true that hair follicle drug tests are more accurate and find a lot more drugs from a longer time frame?

    [Editor’s note: You can review NORML guide to the science behind drug testing here. Generally speaking, follicle testing can detect prior drug use going back much further than urine testing. Is it more accurate than other types of drug testing? In general, it is as accurate as most other drug screens, notably if the past use was weeks prior.]

  30. I have not smoked in years, and just failed for pot from a drug screen given at Bp refinery in Whiting, In. I am persuing a hair test to back up my claim that I am clean. What a crock of $hit !!! I have taken 3 urine tests since to prove I am clean, but that only proves I am clean now !!! now I am going to prove I was clean when they gave the test. A test that goes back 90 days should prove I was clean last week !!!

  31. James Norris, what are you babbling on about? It is clear you are either a bot for a drug testing company or you are one of those shills companies pay to troll conversations they don’t like. From what little I can glean from your entirely incoherent post, you claim to appreciate the information given above (which is against drug testing) and then you seem to claim that you support drug testing, and then you give a link to a drug testing company. What is your issue here? And can you express it in sentences that make some sense, don’t contradict one another, and actually address the issue at hand, which is opposition to drug testing?

  32. What I would really like to know is why there isn’t an organization that is mobilized to fight this very injustice? I am tempted to find out what it would take to start such a thing. I will be posting an informational list against drug testing at my new blog (will post the url when I get it), and I think I will create a pamphlet or something that people can download and print, in the form of those religious tracts, that will have anti-drug testing facts on it so people who are interested can start spreading them around anonymously. Leave them on park benches, leave them in store aisles, etc.

    The problem is that drug testing has become a witch hunt. You know how you can tell something is a witch hunt? When one side has all the power and those who are in opposition can’t speak up. Those who oppose drug testing have to worry that they will be targeted and will lose their jobs (even people like me, who do not use drugs but are seriously worried about the false positives, and who also are concerned about physical privacy rights), so they manage to silence the facts that show they are a fraud. In much the same way that anyone who challenged the witch hunters of old would be summarily accused of witchcraft and arrested, or how during the Red Scare, anyone who dared express the slightest sympathy for “communism”, or even the slightest concern for freedom of thought being violated was immediately targeted as a communist themselves. Any fraud can take off and take over, so long as you make sure those who know the facts are terrified to speak them.

    Here’s something interesting: It used to be that employees has to submit to a polygraph test as a condition of employment or continued employment. Now it’s illegal. I think that is going to eventually happen to drug testing, because over 90% of positive tests are for marijuana, allowing companies to project the illusion that they are screening out mass amounts of drug users. Now 18 states plus DC allow medical marijuana, and 11 states have pending legislation to legalize med MJ, and 2 states have legalized it for recreational use and the fed is getting some significant pushback on its Drug War programs. And the vast majority of people in this country oppose the Drug War, and when that goes employers will no longer be getting reimbursements and tax breaks for testing employees. (It has never been about safety, but about making political points, and about getting money–most companies had eliminated their testing programs by the early 90’s due to it being extremely cost-ineffective, but then the government started subsidizing drug testing, effectively subcontracting 4th amendment violations to the private sector, and that’s when it really took off. When the government started making it work by paying for it with our money.)

    Here’s the thing: I was looking up jobs at this one trucking company, and every job post had a “we do pre-emp/random testing” at the bottom in bold. Except two–the two that were in Colorado. And I don’t think that was a new development. They know that their goose is cooked, legalization is inevitable, and when they are no longer allowed to pad their numbers with the MJ results they will be screwed. Unfortunately, this is resulting in one hell of an extinction burst from them, from efforts to expand drug testing to legal substances like alcohol and nicotene, to giving companies in non-med MJ states the hard sell in an attempt to achieve total saturation where they still have the most power and influence. And further unfortunately, my company has decided to sell out and reap the benefits of government money by expanding their with-cause testing to no-cause testing. I have avoided testing so far, but as I look at jobs it is seeming that they really are managing total saturation of no-cause testing policies across this state before our med MJ law can even go to a vote! I do not use, though I have reason to worry about false positives (as do everyone), but I am examining my legal possibilities with the ALCU and looking for some other work (there are still a couple places with morals in this state who are holding out). If they ask me, I will have to do it, but after it comes back clean I will make a (polite) formal objection to the company’s policy, give a packet of info to both my immediate bosses AND corporate, because at that point they will have NO power over me. I am going to speak up and create awareness. I realize now that I have an amazing amount of power as a non-user, as many people who oppose drug testing are fearful to speak up against it because they might be targeted, but my only objection is entirely on principle and facts. And when marijuana is legal and the users of this harmless weed can speak out without fear of losing their livlihood, I’m hoping that many more will join the cause.

  33. http://enddrugtesting.blogspot.com/

    So far, just the one, but I’m going to be accepting guest posts, if anyone has a story they want to get out or any particular thoughts opposing drug testing, and I will retain the anonymity of every guest poster. I will also be deleting pro-drug testing comments, esp. if I think they come from a bot or a paid troll, because they have had over thirty years of unopposed say on this matter, and I’m not here to provide them with another, albeit small for now, platform to spread their lies.

  34. Wow, Demonhype, you really are informed! I didn’t know the government actually subsidized drug testing. I knew it was a scam, but I wasn’t sure exactly how it worked. I’ve long wondered who’s connected to whom, who owns the drug test labs, and who profits from it. I always figured there was a government/corporate connection somewhere, so what you are saying doesn’t surprise me. Thanks for the info!

  35. BTW, if you’d like to get more informed, I’ve posted a list of links at the blog posted above. The first six are the ones I mostly point people to, but they are all useful and informative.

  36. Hi everybody. So I got a job for a temp company (I’m an electrician) they placed me with a company that does not test that company loved me. The next project was to be for the same contractor but this new project required testing because general contractor required testing. So I hadn’t smoked in a few weeks and still failed. Even after everyone told me I was the best temp ever and talk of permantly hiring me, I got the ol’ brush off. The point is everyone lost. Except the people doing the testing they still get paid.

    Lets just burn it all down. But people like to watch tv and hitch on the internet. I think

  37. I work at a non-piss test job, it’s the only kind I work at. I don’t do piss tests, period. I don’t work for employers who piss test. Never have, never will.

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