Drug Testing gone awry

At least one mother is celebrating a win over drug testing madness. Elizabeth Mort ate an everything bagel for lunch and later that day went to hospital to have a baby. While there, a drug test was done where a small level of opiates was found in her blood. Never told about the drug test results, the hospital notified child protective services and got an order to have her 3 day old baby removed from her care. Guilty by definition, the mother lost her child by eating a bagel. Luckily for the family, it only took a few days for everything to get resolved and the child returned to her parents. Afterwards, the parents sued and won. You can find details across the web including:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-23153685

The horrific part of this story is our reliance as a society on inaccurate drug test, the willingness to define guilty and convict based on scant evidence, and the misunderstanding of how statistics apply. Not only can up to 5 percent of the drug tests (1 out of 20) tests be a false positive; but it is a known fact that poppyseed bagels can cause false positive results for opiate drugs like heroin. The hospital used a standard of 300 nanograms per milliliter while the federal standard is 2000 nanograms. The standards used were 7 times more strict than recommended levels and no questioning had been done to understand the test results. We’ve had similar insane events with the 5 year old kid suspended from school for chewing a pop tart into the shape of a gun and congress with the CSPIA lead standards for toys. We’ve adopted simple “just say no” and the problem goes away standards and combined it with a very real ignorance about science and statistics that leads to the insanity of removing a child from her mother because she ate a bagel.

This blind adherence to misunderstand can ruin lives or in the least case, induce panic when false results are used. I know because I too had a false positive on a drug test and it almost cost me my career. I too ate a bagel before taking a drug test. It was my first job after graduate school and we needed the money. Bob and I were both unemployed; looking for work. We had a kid (Maggie) who needed to be fed. We had no money and no home. Instead at the age of 32, I had moved with my family back home and we lived on borrowed money from Bob’s parents. No health insurance so when I got bronchitis, I used cough drops and tylenol to mask the symptoms. When the job offer from BAE Systems arrived, it seemed a miracle. A good job (plenty of money), near my in-laws (housing and childcare while we got started), and best of all related to my field of work (computer cartography). I WANTED THAT JOB. A drug test should have been no problem. So I was devastated when told the job was rescinded. The comment was made I had taken so much heroin and opiate’s they had no idea how I even managed to drive to the drug testing facility.

Of course I protested. I paid (with borrowed money) for my own drug tests. And I made them verify the results. Eventually, all was resolved and I was able to start working at BAE Systems. After several months, I got the drug test results. A single sheet of paper, it had a hand-written note “Disregard Drug Results” written across the top.

And interesting foot note is several years later, I’m having a security clearance interview. In this interview, I mentioned the drug test and how it still makes me feel uneasy. Now these security investigations are very thorough, before beginning you have to sign a paper allowing full access into any record desired. School records, medical records, financial, library books, and tax records are fair game. So the security people know a lot about a person. But human resources had managed to hide this drug test, so security did not know about it. And the woman whose name I forget made the comment “I can’t believe you would ever take drugs” meant it. She knew my history.

But I know this drug test existed. And I’m still scared of false positives. And I’m scared that someone will find the test and misuse the results. If I had not been able to plead a case and prove my innocence, our family life would have been very different. I probably never would have gotten another chance to work in a technical industry and my ability to support the family would have been jeopardized. Elizabeth Mort and her daughter deserve every dollar they won in that lawsuit. I hope it gives them some comfort for the terror caused by ignorance and our just say no policies.

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Author: Heres to ART not Cockroaches

Welcome to my life. My life as a mom is changing as the kids grow up, leave home, and build their own lives. This gives me a chance to rebuild myself as an artist, develop a spiritual path, and most fun of all, start going out on dates with my husband. Come here the stories about the small things in life that can make one very happy. Dogs running on a beach, great breakfast dates, kids and their adventures, and my own adventures in this wacky life. I'll share some of my progress in learning art while juggling a full time job as an engineer. And best of all, it's a chance for me to practice writing stories while keeping in touch with my kids. I look forward to hearing from you. Comments, thoughts, and invitations to meet for coffee are all welcomed. Enjoy the stories.

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