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False Positives of Field Drug Tests Leading to Drug Arrests and Incarcerations

The war on drugs has led to hundreds of thousands of long-term sentences for drug-related felonies. Drug-related felonies have been a significant target of the criminal justice system, and in-field tools and tests help law enforcement officials to not only identify controlled substances but to test the drugs at the time that the law enforcement official suspects that the substance is in fact, a controlled substance. One of the most utilized tools by law enforcement officials is a field drug test known as the NARK II.

Errors of the NARK II

Unfortunately, though the NARK II field drug tests are considered inexpensive (around $15-20 per box of ten), they have demonstrated a high level of false positives which have led to several wrongful arrests. The NARK II drug tests have mistaken motor oil for heroin, vitamin powder for amphetamines, sage for marijuana, breath mints for crack, and jolly ranchers as meth. Researchers interested in the extent to which false positives were the outcome of the field tests alleged that of 42 non-marijuana substances tested by the test, 70 percent tested positive for marijuana.

False Positive Consequences

The effect that these false positives have had has created a high number of wrongful arrests and detainments while the substance is brought to laboratories to be further tested. According to the Miami New Times, a University of Miami college student, as a prank, left lines of powdered sugar out on the table of his dorm room during inspection. University police were brought into the dorm and used one of the drug field tests to test the powder as cocaine. The powdered sugar, however, was identified by the test as cocaine, and the college student was charged with felony drug possession. Felony drug possession for cocaine carries a maximum of a five-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine. Unfortunately for the college student, more sophisticated drug tests that occur in a laboratory could take up to two months to verify whether the powder is in fact powdered sugar or cocaine.

Everyday Items Could Lead to False Positive Drug Results

Other studies have shown that other types of drug-related tests can also be faulty either because of foods and products that we consume or use every day, or over-the-counter drugs that may lead to false positives. For example, the hair strand test used to be a highly reputable form of determining the presence of drugs in the body’s system long after it has left the body through urine. However, cannabis users may be able to transfer the drug metabolites to another person who is a non-user through their hands, sweat, or cannabis smoke. Another study found that the following could have an impact on a drug test because though they are in and of themselves legal, they may contain traces of a controlled substance:

  • Cold medications: many over-the-counter medications have pseudoephedrine which is a synthetic amphetamine often used to make meth;
  • Some vitamin B supplements, in particular riboflavin (B2), can be made from hempseed oil which have traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element of marijuana that can be found in urine drug tests;
  • Ibuprofen may lead to a person testing positive for marijuana, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines in urine drug tests;
  • Poppy seed bagels contain traces of opiates, such as opium and codeine, which can be tested in your urine for up to two days after eating the bagel;
  • Granola bars and snack bars may contain hemp seeds, which could lead to traces of THC being detected in urine drug tests; and
  • Tonic water, which was originally known as quinine water, may lead to a testing positive for opiates.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or a loved one has been charged with felony drug possession but you believe that the results of the field drug tests were incorrect, it is important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik who can make sure that the substances are tested in a laboratory by an expert. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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