Inmates using fake waste to deceive drug testing

Probation violations are now usually filed in lieu of criminal charges

By Sophia Voraong
Journal & Courier

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Desperate times call for desperate measures, the saying goes.

This rings true for offenders who are unwilling to stay off drugs while serving time through community corrections or on probation. For years, offenders have attempted to pass mandatory urine screens by borrowing “clean” urine from acquaintances.

But now, with increasing frequency, they’re turning to synthetic urine blends that boast 0 percent failure rates and claim to contain the same characteristics as the real thing.

“People have been cheating, trying to cheat, for years — for as long as I’ve been doing this job,” said Allison Miner, deputy director of Tippecanoe County Community Corrections. “What we’re starting to see more of is the fake urine that people buy online and at head shops.”

Miner and other testers in the Lafayette area have a message for those who think they can get away with it: They’re onto you.

Most recently, on June 4, a West Lafayette woman was caught at community corrections with a device containing fake urine.

“We saw the tube sticking out,” Miner told the Journal & Courier. “Officers followed the tube and found that it was taped to her.”

And what offenders may not realize is that simply possessing synthetic urine and attempting to fool screening tests are crimes in Indiana.

Indiana has two laws related to the issue, both of which passed in July 2005 without much fanfare. Since then, eight people have been charged in Tippecanoe County with possession of a device or substance to interfere with a screening test, a Class B misdemeanor, according to data provided by Clerk Christa Coffey.

Four people have been charged with interfering with a screening test, also a Class B misdemeanor, during the same time frame.

Before it became illegal in 2011 to sell or possess spice, K2 and other synthetic marijuana blends, the small packets — marketed as potpourri and incense — contained a warning that the substance was “not fit for human consumption.”

Similarly, synthetic urine is commonly sold with a warning that states “Intended for lawful use only” or “Novelty synthetic urine substitution product.”

For a “novelty” item, the instructions included with the kit are surprisingly detailed. Users are told how to warm the fake substance to a temperature that matches actual urine when excreted.

Some kits designed for men are even anatomically correct, according to Nick Bray with Sentinel Offender Services, a California-based company that has an office at Tippecanoe County Court Services on North Fourth Street, just east of the courthouse.

Sentinel does testing for the county’s probation department and for court services.

“That way, it could appear to be the real thing, but they look quite fake,” Bray said. “Some of the other ways people try to sneak urine in is through pill bottles.

“Most of them, when they get caught, say they figure they would be caught, but they wanted to try it anyway.”

He said most offenders are men; the issue typically comes up once a month.

And they try despite urine screens that are closely monitored at Sentinel and community corrections.

“Here, they are watched. We go in with them. They have to take off all unnecessary clothing items — coats, jackets,” Miner said. “They have to drop their pants all the way to the floor. There are mirrors all around them. They cannot wash their hands right after.”

Community corrections requires urine screens at least twice a month.

Similar observations are done by Sentinel. People on probation are subject to random urine screens.

When someone is caught, the devices or substances are confiscated, and a report is filed with the offender’s probation officer or prosecutor’s office. That will then lead to prosecutors asking for a person’s probation to be revoked, which could result in prison or community corrections time.

Prosecutor Pat Harrington said his office usually files probation violations in lieu of criminal charges, since proving a violation is more quickly achieved, compared to sending synthetic or someone else’s urine to a laboratory for analysis.

The issue isn’t unique to the criminal justice system.

Blackbird Clinical Services in Lafayette provides drug screens for area employers and anyone else who requests one — parents who want their children tested, for instance.

President Kimi Hathaway said they have people who try to pass off synthetic urine or someone else’s urine on a weekly basis. Blackbird does not observe urine screens, but synthetic urine often is suspected in cases where the urine is too hot or too cold. Only urine between 90 and 100 degrees is a valid sample, she said.

“If it’s out of temperature (range) that is reported as a refusal,” Hathaway said. “When we’re putting programs together for clients, we do advise them on how to handle failing screens.

“What we suggest is, if someone is carrying fake urine, that means they’re trying to pass it off as their own. Why give that person a second chance?”

Work-Comp Management Services Inc. in Lafayette does drug screens for area employers, the Tippecanoe County branch of the Indiana Department of Child Services and for school corporations in Tippecanoe, Carroll and White counties.

“People come in here knowing what they’re coming here to do,” office manager April Kaufman said, “so we don’t see it too often.”

Still, they run into the issue about once a month, she said. When that happens, protocol is to throw out the sample and retest.