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What is Adulteration?

Adulteration refers to the deliberate action of tampering with a provided urine specimen via fluid consumption (i.e. water ingestion) or catalytic dilution (i.e. chemical agent) to alter the biochemical composition in order to achieve a negative drug test result. In Canada, urine drug testing is the most common methodology for drug tests, though adulteration screens operate as a preliminary measure to authenticate questionable samples.  

In many cases, employers rely on point-of-care testing as a convenient and economical approach to collecting urine specimens. Although adulteration screens can help filter illegitimate test findings, a non-negative test result presents challenges to indicate whether the presence of drug metabolites found in the system reflects an existing drug problem. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a U.S. federal agency for regulating drug testing parameters with many Canadian-based laboratories following its prescribed model for handling issues surrounding adulterants that pose discrepancies. 

Lab technicians often test creatinine (and many other) levels, a natural byproduct from the catabolic breakdown of muscular synthesis that routinely appears in urine. Although some adulterants are easily detectable based on composite appearances or odors, individuals can obtain commercial products used as adulterants to receive drug clearance on the premise of encountering otherwise positive test results. To this end, confirmatory testing draws on the employ of sophisticated technology such as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) alongside liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) to target and isolate drug metabolites with corresponding cut-off values from a urine specimen. 

While urine drug testing remains the norm in Canada, employers contending with the systemic issue of adulterant samples must adhere to SAMHSA-controlled regulations to establish negative or positive test results pending validation by a Medical Review Officer (MRO).

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