Adulterants causing false negatives in illicit drug testing

Clin Chem. 1988 Nov;34(11):2333-6.


Illicit-drug users may attempt to falsify results by in vitro adulteration of specimens. We investigated eight additives (NaCl, Visine, handsoap, Drano, bleach, vinegar, golden-seal tea, and lemon juice) claimed by drug users to invalidate enzyme immunoassay (EIA) drug assays. We also analyzed adulterated urine specimens to determine if they could be identified, adding adulterants at several concentrations to 222 EIA-positive specimens confirmed by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to contain illicit drugs. To identify adulterated urines, we monitored pH, relative density, and urine color and turbidity at adulterant concentrations that falsified EIA results. Specimens contaminated with NaCl had relative densities greater than 1.035. Liquid Drano, bleach, and vinegar shifted urine pH outside the physiological range. Golden-seal tea caused a dark appearance, and specimens containing liquid soap were unusually cloudy. Lemon juice had no effect on the assays. Visine was the only adulterant not detected. The adulterants interfered somewhat differently with each of the drug assays. EIA assays for illicit drugs can be invalidated by specimen adulteration producing false-negative results. Therefore, if urine drug testing is to be conducted, pH, relative density, and appearance should be assessed and suspect specimens should be rejected. Not all adulterants can be detected, so observed collection is strongly recommended.

MeSH terms

  • Acetates
  • Acetic Acid
  • Amphetamines / urine
  • Barbiturates / urine
  • Benzodiazepines / urine
  • Cannabinoids / urine
  • Cocaine / urine
  • Detergents*
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Illicit Drugs / urine*
  • Imidazoles
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Narcotics / urine
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Surface-Active Agents*
  • Tea


  • Acetates
  • Amphetamines
  • Barbiturates
  • Cannabinoids
  • Detergents
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Imidazoles
  • Narcotics
  • Surface-Active Agents
  • Tea
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Cocaine
  • Acetic Acid
  • tetrahydrozoline