This was Originally Published in the DATIA Focus Summer 2017 Issue.
Conduct a Google search on urine drug testing and temperature, and you will find a plethora of websites with hints on how to “fool the system.” I should know. When I conducted research about how temperature could affect the accuracy of a drug test, it was hard to find anything but suggestions on how to pass off clean urine.
As procedures for specimen collection become more disciplined and lab analysis technology become more sophisticated, the percentage of people who are caught trying to beat the system will increase. Some will be caught during the collection process. Others will be exposed at the lab. Even some of the websites that offer suggestions for cheating acknowledge this.
As we all know, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Prevention Urine Specimen Collection Handbook has a number of required steps to assure that a sample is collected correctly, and is consistent for forensic requirements. Obviously, it is impossible to outline all of the requirements in the article. However, we can detail how important it is to maintain temperature controls as they relate to storing collection devices and monitoring specimens as they are collected.
Getting the right temperature
When urine is ready to be collected, the collector supervising the process will ask the candidate to: proceed to the room used for urination; provide a specimen of ample quantity; not flush the toilet; and return with the specimen as soon as possible after completing the void. This last piece is especially important – the collector must tell the person that the temperature of the specimen is a critical factor.
As soon as the specimen is handed from the donor to the collector, the volume of the sample must be checked and the temperature must be taken – no more than four minutes after the donor leaves the restroom. Temperature is determined by reading a temperature strip originally affixed to, or placed on the outside of the collection container after the donor gives the collection container with the specimen to the collector. Under normal situations, fresh urine will display a temperature between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the temperature strip, if read within four minutes of the collection.
Should the temperature strip not register, the specimen should be immediately re-checked using a new cup (or strip) and the results recorded on the requisition. Temperatures outside these values suggest that a substitute specimen was provided. So, while people can easily buy synthetic urine, hiding and using it to successfully pass a drug test is more difficult.
If the temperature is within the acceptable range, the collector checks the “Yes” box on the Federal Drug Testing Custody and Control Form (CCF) and proceeds with the collection procedure. Any specimen temperature that is out of range requires the specimen temperature box to be checked “No,” and the collector must describe the findings concerning the temperature. The collector must also immediately collect a new specimen using direct observation procedures, and send both specimens to the laboratory.
While temperature is a very good indicator of whether the urine sample is genuine, the collector must still inspect the specimen for unusual color, foreign objects or material, and other signs of tampering or adulteration. There are many different household contaminants that can make a sample bubbly, foamy, cloudy; or offer other visual conditions. Many of these contaminants are detected by on-site or laboratory analysis – including pH, creatinine, and specific gravity tests.
The CCF has two tamper-evident labels/seals that are used to seal a single specimen bottle or two split specimen bottles. If the label is strong enough and properly affixed, moisture, temperature, or the specimen itself should not affect it.
Both the collector and donor will maintain visual contact with the specimen to the greatest extent possible until the labels/seals are placed over the specimen bottle caps/lids. The collector or collection site must ensure that each specimen collected is shipped to a laboratory as quickly as possible, but in every case within 24 hours or during the next business day.
While drug testing for the normal constituents in urine can be very sensitive and require very constrained temperature limits, tests for illicit drugs are not typically as sensitive. The combination of immunoassay screening with confirmation by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) makes the possibility of error extremely remote.
Before testing, most test devices must be kept at room temperature 15-30°C (59-86°F), and not exposed to extreme heat or cold. While there are general suggestions, each product must have an insert that provides specific details when performing the actual test. When samples are collected, they must be stored at room temperature 18-25°C (64-77°F) during shipping and storage conditions for at least one week, or results could be inaccurate. Temperature labels – which change color if temperatures fall out of range – can assure that everything is stored the proper conditions.
Getting the temperature right
A liquid crystal thermometer, temperature strip, or plastic strip thermometer contains heat-sensitive liquid crystals that change color to indicate different temperatures. Liquid crystals possess the mechanical properties of a single crystal. They can distinguish temperatures within 0.1°C.
Liquid crystal temperature labels use color change to indicate temperatures or temperature ranges. Because these are printed on labels, they can be provided in almost any size and shape to fit any need, along with real-time temperatures. The thin, flexible temperature indicators feature adhesive or magnetic backings that are easily attached where traditional thermometers cannot. A good label clearly communicates the optimal temperature, whether for health, safety, efficient use, quality, or convenience. When accuracy and reliability matter, top companies in drug testing, medical device, pharmaceutical, and industrial sectors rely on liquid crystal thermometers.
For saliva testing, a dual card can be used with both ascending and descending temperature monitoring. If the label turns red, it indicates that, before use, the test product was stored at temperatures that were too high or too low, potentially affecting the accuracy of the test. In the same way, it can also indicate if saliva was not stored at room temperature after use.
Temperature is a good telltale
The accuracy of drug testing relies on how closely the administrator follows Department of Transportation (DOT) and/or HHS procedures. When poor procedures or testing methods are used, the information obtained may be misleading and inaccurate. One of the most accurate means of assuring a viable has been collected is temperature. It is a very empirical indicator whether or not something is amiss.