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ADC - Urinalysis testing

Nov. 17, 2006 PRINT | E-MAIL
AREA DEFENSE COUNSEL
BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La.
FACT SHEET ON URINALYSIS TESTING

The following information is provided to our clients who have submitted a urine specimen for drug urinalysis testing. Read this information very carefully - it is intended to familiarize you with the circumstances under which a urine sample may be collected; the basic collection, security, testing, and quality control procedures used by the Air Force drug urinalysis program; and the possible disciplinary consequences of a positive urinalysis. After reading the handout, you should understand how the Air Force Drug Testing Laboratory tests urine samples for evidence of illegal drug use, and how the results of its testing are ensured to be correct. This handout is not intended to be comprehensive, but merely a starting point for your understanding. We strongly encourage you to ask either your defense counsel or the defense paralegal any questions you might have about the information in this handout, or about anything related to your case and our representation.

1. Legal Basis and Use. Military members may be required to provide urine samples in 6 situations:

a. A random inspection. There are two main types of testing by random inspection.

(1) A "sweep" usually involves testing an entire shift or section. Such an inspection is lawful as long as your commander's primary purpose is to determine the fitness for duty of squadron members, and is not targeting specific individuals suspected of illegal drug use.

(2) The second type of random inspection occurs when your name is picked from a computer list at MPF. Usually, names are picked base-wide each month based on two positions and digits in your social security number. If your name is chosen, you are notified by your orderly room that you must report to the collections point within a few hours to provide a sample.

Either type of random test may be used in a proceeding under the UCMJ. Usually, this means if you came up positive as a result of a random inspection test, you will get an Article 15 for marijuana, or a court-martial for cocaine.

b. A probable cause search. Here, your commander or law enforcement authorities must have reasonable grounds to believe that if your urine is tested, evidence of illegal drug use will be found. An anonymous tip alone is not normally sufficient to establish probable cause without other evidence. But smoke in a car that smells like marijuana, or a joint in an ashtray, may be sufficient. The result in a probable cause search, just like a random inspection, may be used to support a UCMJ action such as an Article 15 or a court-martial.

c. A command-directed test. A command-directed test may be conducted when there is a reasonable suspicion of drug abuse, but not enough basis for a probable search. Commanders usually order urine testing in cases of aberrant, bizarre, or unlawful behavior, including DWI, violations of safety regulations, or other incidents. Results obtained from a command-directed test may not be used against you in any action under the UCMJ, nor may the results be used on the basis for a letter of reprimand, followed by an administrative discharge, which will be an Honorable discharge.

d. Routine or Emergency medical treatment. Urine specimens given for medical purposes may also be tested for drug use. This includes periodic medical exams. The results of these medical tests may be used for Article 15 or court-martial.

e. A drug abuse treatment program. A test may be ordered at the direction of rehabilitation personnel. If the results are positive while you are in the program, those results are treated the same as a command-directed test - that is, the results may not be used against you criminally, but you will be administratively separated from the Air Force with an Honorable discharge.

f. Consent. The only other situation where a urinalysis specimen may be obtained is when a military member voluntarily consents to provide a urine sample.

You have the right to refuse to consent to a urinalysis test. If your first shirt sergeant or law enforcement authorities ask you to consent, you do not have to say yes. In addition, you cannot be punished in any way if you refuse to consent. However, your commander may direct or order you to provide a sample anyway. If that happens, you must provide the sample or you will be disobeying a lawful order. Again, however, the results may not be used against you criminally (see above). That means you could not be court-martialed and you will not go to jail. You could be given an honorable discharge.

If your consent is truly voluntary, then the result can be used against you for Article 15 or court-martial. Your consent makes it easy for the government of the test comes back positive. If you felt intimidated by your commander, an OSI agent, or a Security Police investigator into giving consent, make sure you tell your lawyer. In some cases, depending on the circumstances, your consent may not have been legally voluntary.

2. Providing a Sample. You will have been tested for one of the above purposes. Many people express concern about whether the sample was collected with appropriate safeguard against tampering. The following outline of AFI 44-120 procedural requirements is provided for comparison. If any of the steps were left out, notify your lawyer. Most samples are collected in this manner:

a. You report to a lab technician at the lab, who looks at any letter or form you may have been given to take to the lab. The lab tech looks at your military ID and writes down identifying information in a ledger, including your name and social security number. You are asked to verify the information on the ledger by signing your name and on the label by initialing. Both the ledger and the label should contain the same specimen number, which is in this form F556X-XXX. This is called the Laboratory Accession Number, and it is unique to your sample.

b. The lab tech puts the label on a small, clear plastic bottle. Then an observer will be given the bottle and will accompany you to the restroom to actually watch you urinate. The lab tech may act as the observer, or a trained member of your squadron may do it. The observer must be of the same sex and must watch you urinate. Once sufficient volume is collected, and either you or the observer put the lid back on, you both return to the lab and observer initials the label and signs the ledger.

c. Now comes the crucial part. The lab tech places about six inches of orange-pink tamper-resistant tape over the lid of the bottle and down the sides. If this is done, it is very difficult later to claim tampering. The bottle cannot be opened without the tape being broken. This should be done in your presence. Once this is complete, you may leave. If you have any questions, ask them. You should try to see where the lab tech left your bottle before you depart.

d. Your sample cannot be tested unless it contains at least 60 milliliters of urine (about 2/3 of a bottle). If you could not produce that much, your specimen will be discarded, and you will have to wait there until you can produce enough.

3. Chain of Custody. This term refers to procedures used to ensure it is your sample that is eventually tested, and that your sample has not been tampered with. The above collection procedures are part of the chain of custody. After you leave the lab, your specimen is controlled by keeping a record on a form as to where it is, and by locking it in a secure cabinet in the lab. Only lab personnel will have access to the cabinet, and of course, your bottle cannot be opened without breaking the tamper-resistant tape. Within a few days, your sample is placed in a sealed shipment box with other samples, and mailed to the Air Force Drug Testing Laboratory (AFDTL) at Brooks AFB, Texas. Forms are filled out to show who mailed your sample, when, and whether it was intact when it left.

4. At AFDTL. The drug testing lab at Brooks AFB (AFDTL), receives specimens from all Air Force installations in the United States. The boxes are immediately inspected for any signs of tampering or damage during shipment, and the specimen bottles themselves are also immediately inspected for possible tampering. They will not be tested if the tamper-resistant tape is broken. Specimens are normally processed in five days, although testing can occur much later than that and still be valid. All samples are tested three separate times by two different kinds of tests. Only samples which test positive at concentrations above a designed "cutoff" level on all three tests are reported as positive.

5. Aliquots. An aliquot is a portion of your original urine sample which is drawn from the specimen bottle. It is important to understand that when tests are performed on your urine, only a portion, or aliquot, is tested each time. Your original bottle stays permanently in one very secure room at the lab. When portions are needed for various tests, a small amount is taken from the bottle into a test tube. This aliquot is then tested elsewhere inside the lab. This makes it easier for the government to prove your bottle has not been tampered with. Your bottle is not moving around all over the place and is only accessible to authorized personnel in the secure storage room.

6. Testing Procedures. Urinalysis testing is a scientifically precise and accurate method to detect the presence of drug metabolite in your urine. When you smoke, eat, or otherwise ingest drugs, your liver converts the substance to metabolites, which end up in your urine. Marijuana and cocaine produce very specific metabolites which are not produced by any other substances you may ingest. Minute quantities of metabolites, measured in nanograms, or billionths of a gram, can be detected in urine using radioimmunoassay (RIA) and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) testing. To be reported positive, a specimen must contain at least 100 nanograms as detected by the RIA test, and then at least 15 nanograms by the GC/MS test. The Department of Defense established these cutoff levels to prevent a positive reading from some cause other than wrongful use (such as passive inhalation). Although you can get a few nanograms of marijuana metabolite into your urine by smelling or breathing someone else's marijuana smoke, you cannot get enough to reach the DOD cutoff levels that way.

a. RIA. This is a screening test which consists of adding radioactive substances called antigens and antibody reagents to urine. The antigen competes with the target drug, if present, for the antibody. The mixture is centrifuged and then the radioactivity levels are measured. Recent studies have shown that the RIA tests used by the Air Force is highly specific and very accurate. Even so, RIA is only used on the first two tests, as a screen and an initial confirmation test.

b. GC/MS. This is the state-of-the-art test for drugs. It is used worldwide by all crime labs to detect all sorts of substances, including drugs. Chemical procedures are used to extract the target drug from the urine, and then the extract is injected into a long tube. It is carried down the tube by an inert gas which separates the drug molecules from any substances. At the end of the tube, the molecules are ionized by an electron stream, and the ions are measured by a sensitive device. The ions must occur in certain patterns and with certain molecular weights before the analyst can conclude a certain drug is present. This method is extremely accurate and can measure drugs at the 1-2 nanogram level.

7. Quality Control. The performance of the AFDTL is guaranteed by an extensive system of quality controls, which ensure the lab never reports a "false positive."

a. The lab itself includes internal Blind Quality Control (BQC) specimens in every batch it tests, and only a quality control monitor knows which ones they are. The results of the tests of those samples must be accurate, or the whole batch of 200 specimens will be discarded.

b. The lab is also rigorously monitored by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), which sends blind (unknown) samples and known samples through various Air Force bases to the AFDTL for testing. Only AFIP knows what the results should be. The labs do not know which are the AFIP samples. AFIP issues reports on a regular basis as to how the labs are doing. These quality control checks also look at administrative aspects of the chain of custody.

8. Accuracy of the Test. Disregard anything you heard about the lab several years ago. There has been great improvement since then. There have been no report of false positive results in the last five years, of the millions of samples tested. AFDTL lab results now routinely stand up in court. In fact, it has become extremely difficult to defend against a positive result.

9. What can you do? If you feel strongly that the urinalysis is in error, you have several options. You can request a polygraph through the OSI or take one downtown (see our separate handout about polygraph examinations). You can request that the sample be retested at a private lab at your own expense. Or you can seek to obtain all the documentation in your case, including test results and chain of custody forms, and have your lawyer review them, or send them to one of several independent experts at your own expense for their review. If your case is going to court or an administrative discharge board, your lawyer can usually obtain these documents for examination.

10. Potential Punishments. If the results of your test can be used against you in a UCMJ proceeding that is, if it was obtained as a result of a random test, a probable cause search, a medical exam, or your voluntary consent - then you will either be given an Article 15 and be administratively discharged or you will be court-martialed. Cases involving marijuana only normally result in Special Courts-Martial, where the maximum punishment authorized is a Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD), 6 months confinement, forfeiture of two-thirds pay and allowances for 6 months, and reduction to E-1. Other cased, involving cocaine and other drugs, or which involves possession or distribution of larger quantities of drugs, usually go to a General Court-Martial, where a Dishonorable Discharge and at least several years of confinement is authorized for each drug offense.