Published online 2023 May 22.

Can Synthetic Urine Pass Drug Tests? A Discussion with Expert Toxicologist Dr. Jeffrey Wilson

PMID: 3014646 DOI: 10.1s4640072

Edward Devries: Today, we’re delving into a controversial yet surprisingly pervasive issue – the use of synthetic urine to pass drug tests.

It’s been brought to my attention that this tactic seems to be surprisingly effective, with top-tier synthetic urine reportedly capable of bypassing even the most stringent laboratory tests.

In our endeavor to expose the truth and demystify the process, we’re exploring how people utilize synthetic urine to dupe drug tests and the measures laboratories are employing to counteract such attempts.

Joining us for this discussion is Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, a Stanford University Ph.D. holder specializing in toxicology. Dr. Wilson’s professional background spans the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and he’s a well-recognized authority on workplace drug policies and their impacts on health and performance.

His expansive expertise, inclusive of devising drug testing methods, promises an enlightening discussion on the subject.

Edward Devries: Dr. Wilson, synthetic urine is increasingly touted as an effective tool to pass drug tests. Can you shed light on this matter?

Dr. Jeffrey Wilson: That’s true, Edward. We’ve conducted extensive studies on several synthetic urine products available in the market.

The results have indicated that top-quality products can indeed pass all visual, validity, and drug tests. However, it’s not the same story for cheaper alternatives, which often fail validity tests.

This poses a significant challenge for the drug testing industry.

Nevertheless, we’ve been implementing strategies to prevent fake urine usage and catch potential violators even before they submit their samples.

Edward Devries: When you refer to fake urine passing validity tests, could you elaborate on what these tests entail?

Dr. Jeffrey Wilson: Sure, Edward. We employ four checks for each sample. Firstly, we measure the temperature. It’s here where most people stumble, as their samples are either too cold or too hot.

However, we acknowledge that some synthetic urine kits include reliable methods to maintain the right temperature, even incorporating electric urine heaters.

The next check involves assessing the visual appearance. Some inferior quality synthetic urines lack the natural foaming of genuine urine or exhibit abnormal coloration. Following the visual inspection, we send the sample to the laboratory.

In the lab, we use a validity dipstick test, immersing the dipstick in the sample to check normal ranges of pH, specific gravity, and creatinine levels. This is another hurdle where certain fake urines fall short.

Finally, we employ a 5 or 10-panel drug test to look for drugs in the urine. Interestingly, all synthetic urines we tested passed this stage because, logically, no one would include drug metabolites in synthetic urine.

If need be, we can detect synthetic urine using gas chromatography drug testing, but this is generally reserved for confirming positive drug test results in cases where the individual disputes the outcome.

Edward Devries: I’ve heard that some manufacturers add a substance called biocide to their synthetic urine to prevent bacterial growth. Is it possible to detect this additive during testing?

Dr. Jeffrey Wilson: Absolutely. In an effort to cut costs, some manufacturers use a less intricate urine formula and add biocide.

While these samples might pass the visual inspection, they invariably fail the validity check.

We test for adulterants in urine samples, and biocide is one of them.

Edward Devries: And what exactly is synthetic urine made of?

Dr. Jeffrey Wilson: As the name suggests, synthetic urine is a laboratory-generated product designed to mimic real urine.

It comprises various components found in human urine, including uric acid, creatinine, urea, ammonia, and sulfates. Its chemical composition, odor, and taste are designed to be identical to those of real human urine.

Edward Devries: Do individuals ever try to submit clean urine from themselves or someone else?

Dr. Jeffrey Wilson: Yes, we have seen such cases. However, in 90% of these instances, we can easily detect this due to the quick spoilage of human urine.

Visual inspections typically reveal signs of bacterial growth, indicating that the urine is spoiled. There’s also the risk that the “clean” urine from a friend might not be as clean as assumed.

Edward Devries: You mentioned that you’ve implemented strategies to catch people before they can submit synthetic samples. Could you describe these measures?

Dr. Jeffrey Wilson: Certainly. We focus primarily on facility setup and the checking process.

We seal all possible hiding spots in the testing bathroom, such as ventilation openings and the toilet bowl.

Furthermore, we halt all water supply and add special blue tablets to the toilet bowl water to prevent individuals from diluting the sample or preparing powdered urine.

For the checking procedure, we request every individual to empty their pockets and remove any additional items of clothing such as hats and coats, which could potentially hide a bottle of fake urine.

While this approach is usually sufficient, we are aware that some individuals manage to sneak synthetic urine into the bathroom.

If we find suspicious items related to drug test cheating – such as synthetic urine bottles, Visine bottles, or ‘whizzinators’ – we require the individual to submit the sample under direct observation.

This implies that a lab technician accompanies the individual to the bathroom and supervises the sample collection. Should an individual refuse, we report this to the company that requested the drug test.

Edward Devries: Despite these precautions, how do individuals manage to sneak synthetic urine into the bathroom?

Dr. Jeffrey Wilson: The truth is, our checks aren’t invasive. We ask individuals to empty pockets and remove extra clothing, but we don’t have the right to physically touch or intimately inspect them.

As a result, many resort to hiding fake urine in the crotch area, within their pants, or even in bras. I’ve witnessed individuals utilizing specialized leg belts with hidden pockets or trousers with concealed compartments.

There are also devices like the ‘Incognito Belt,’ which houses a urine bag. Worn around the waist, these are virtually undetectable.

As we don’t physically touch individuals during the inspection, these devices can effectively smuggle synthetic urine past our checks.

Edward Devries: You mentioned that many people submit samples that fall below the acceptable temperature range. How do individuals typically circumvent this problem?

Dr. Jeffrey Wilson: Indeed, a significant number of people stumble at the temperature check.

The acceptable urine temperature range is between 97 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with the sample ideally being submitted 2-4 minutes after urination.

Therefore, we still accept samples within 90-100 degrees, considering the cooling time.

However, our extensive testing experience tells us that the urine doesn’t cool down to 90–92 degrees quite so fast. Therefore, a sample below 96 degrees usually raises suspicions.

Many individuals attempt to maintain the sample’s warmth by keeping it close to their bodies, but this strategy often fails.

Some resort to heating pads, which generally work well, though there have been instances of these failing too.

As per my research, the most effective solution appears to be heating powder, which can heat the urine within seconds. Two synthetic urine brands, Sub Solution and Quick Luck, use this approach.

Edward Devries: From our discussion, it seems synthetic urine remains a potent tool for bypassing drug tests, with little that can be done to counter this. Is that correct?

Dr. Jeffrey Wilson: Unfortunately, that’s an accurate assessment.

Despite our efforts, there are a few brands out there that provide high-quality synthetic urine, coupled with discreet carrying methods and effective heating solutions.

Unless the user commits an easily detectable mistake, we typically can’t spot these instances of cheating.

Edward Devries: Considering these challenges, what do you foresee for the future of drug testing? It seems that the current urine drug testing process can be easily manipulated using fake urine.

Dr. Jeffrey Wilson: Indeed, devices like the Incognito Belt or brands like Sub Solution make the current testing procedures susceptible to fraud.

Looking towards the future, implementing direct observation during drug testing may be a more effective strategy.

Despite the privacy concerns this method raises, it can drastically minimize drug test cheating.

Edward Devries: Dr. Wilson, thank you for your time and the enlightening discussion on such a critical and complex issue.