How important is drug testing to the drug court treatment
process? How many participants try to beat the drug tests?
Brooklyn participants readily acknowledged that drug court participants
regularly try to beat the drug testsor will if given
- They do try to get over on you. Many times I seen that.
- People try to get through the program by faking drug tests. People
try and people get caught. They try mixing it with water.
- When I was an outpatient, my urine was dirty all the time. So took
it on Monday. You knew when it was going to happen, so the rest of the
week, you know, you could get high. It serves constantly to keep you straight.
- I know for me, an addict, I cant be trusted for a second.
When asked for a recommendation about the use of drug testing, the participants
were fairly clear about its necessity both as a means of enforcement and
to provide accountability in the treatment process:
- If Im running a program, I drug testing all the time.
- I was in a program didnt do enough drug testing, random maybe
every 2 months or maybe this week or maybe next week.
- Random is better if youre gonna catch people.
- It should be regular.
- Being screened is important. Let the person know.
- Its good because you come here and your urine is dirty, youre
not walking out the door. . . . They gonna hold you and take you off to jail. You dont get
seen by the judge until we know about the urine.
- Even though you dont know when they gonna take your urine, when
they get ready to take your urine you feel good about it because you didnt
get high. Its good to know they gonna take your urine. It confirms
what you know.
- Recommendation about drug testing: Just stay clean. If you gonna get
high, you gonna get caught, and then you got so much to lose.
Las Vegas participants clearly did not like urine tests, but they were
quick to argue that the tests are very necessary, particularly observed
- I mean I hate em. I hate em and I know Im clean.
I hate em, but I think it was really helpful, and I see people trying
to beat the system.
The focus group leader asked the participants how common it was for clients
to falsify their urine tests and how successfully this could be done in
the Las Vegas program:
- Yeah, I already got caught [falsifying].
- I have two friends who recently graduated, who basically made up their
negative tests through the whole program.
- Its like when the judge tells you, you know, Have observed
UAs, Choices dont know about it, so you go there and you just
pee, you know, the way you want, and then you go back and say, Yeah,
I was observed. They dont know. . . .
- But now they put you on observe, you come over here and piss the way
you want to piss, then just put it in the microwave for 30 seconds. .
- I would never have learned as much about how to corrupt myself and
beat the system had it [urine test] been observed from day 1. I used to
play. . . .
- You see a lot of athletic people drink water . . . and you just have
water. Hell put you on observed and those people are . . . really
The Las Vegas responses seemed to suggest that some individuals could
falsify their tests at times and, possibly, for a while, but that it was
unlikely that one could be successful at such deception for an extended
period of time:
- The longer you do it, the more chances youre going to get caught.
I say 2 or 3 percent may be successful in falsifying, but for the most
part everyone gets caught eventually. Cause I know, I held out for
a whole year, Id say maybe 6 months of it I was actually clean.
The rest of the time I was falsifying. I was just counting days and, you
know, making sure that when I did go in I was clean. . . . So it ended
up catching up with me.
Participants noted the special policy that was implemented to make all
pregnant women have observed urine tests:
- He did the same thing to me when I was pregnant. All I drank was Sprite
cause its caffeine-free and water because it was a clear view
way. I was put on observe and thats why he started observing all
females that were pregnant from then on. Because my UA was too clear,
too clean, so I must have been diluting it in order to show that I was
not getting high. And I wasnt getting high.
There seemed to be wide agreement in the two groups that all urine tests
should be observed.
- He put me on observe because I got clean too quick.
Without the urine tests, participants agreed that people would be encouraged
to spend their energies timing their drug use and thinking that they could
beat the program:
- And who are they hurting? They are hurting themselves. . . .
Among Miami focus group participants, there was a general consensus that
participants do not cheat on drug tests. They said that the counselors
observed them and the tests were random, which made it very difficult
to cheat. It was also their impression that the drug court judge was going
to know about it if they tried to cheat, and most did not want to risk
- I dont think anybody does. . . . You get watched. . . . You get
watched every day.
- Its a random thing so its very hard.
- If they feel or have reason to believe [you are doing it] theyll
watch you. . . . They catch up with you regardless, trust me.
- You can be watched. . . . You can do it if you want to do.
- The doors are open. . . . They do it random.
- If youre not clean, youre only lying to yourself.
One individual, who was new to the program, argued that it was easy to
cheat on the drug tests. This generated some debate among the more experienced
focus group participants, who strongly disagreed:
- You go in there intenseyou bring in ClearEyes, Visine.
- I dont agree with that, cause you can piss in a bottle
ahead of time and keep it the same temperature for a day or two.
- No it wont. . . . Not the body temperature.
- I know. . . . I did that before. It will stay the same temperature.
Portland focus group participants generally agreed that it is not very
difficult to cheat on drug tests, particularly during the later treatment
phases when only weekly UAs are required. According to some participants,
some individuals can plan their drug use in between UAs with a fair chance
that the drug use will go undetected. However, once participants have
been caught, the frequency of tests is increased and their tests are observed
by staff. When this occurred, drug court participants reported that it
was nearly impossible to continue using drugs and still drop clean
- Its very easy . . . because Im on weekly UA, so I know
if I have my UA on Monday, aint going to have another until next
week so you can do whatever you want.
- Yes, thats true, as long as you allow yourself a few days. Well,
I think its easy until you get caught and then you get a double-digit
- Yeah, I hated UAs, I hated UAs, I hated UAs . . . because I was constantly
at battle with them, you know, gearing my life around my use and my UA,
and then they became my best friend because thats what kept me from
San Bernardino focus group members also believed that it was highly unlikely
that participants could fake drug tests successfully:
- Because the way they test you. Theres no way to fake it.
- You mean how many people beat them? You get caught in the end.
- I guess about five people I know of have beaten it. Thats what
theyre claiming. I dont know for a fact.
- Having that guy stand there? Yeah. Has to be all observed. [Consensus.]
- I know one person who actually didnt never stay clean and graduated
from here. . . . Not with drugs, but he was drinking three or four a night.
Seattle participants echoed the views of the other sites in stressing
the importance of drug testing and the low likelihood of beating
- Probably because we stay straighter because of that; otherwise, you
know wed cheat, a little bit here, a little bit there.
- I think the drug testing helps. . . . Here its random, really
random. You never know when youre going to test. I think that helps
- [How often do people cheat?] Cant . . . I mean we tried, but
. . . I saw this one guy when I went court and he had this strap on and it had someone elses
urine and an IV switch to turn it on and off. . . . You can try.
- They actually watch you. Theres a mirror on the wall.
Back to The Treatment Experience
Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts