How an innocent lunchtime bagel could ruin a promising career
Monday 10 February 1997
John Honour, of University College London, said that the Government should act now to set standards for drugs testing, to avoid injustices against innocent people whose samples test positive. Testing for use of drugs such as cannabis, heroin and cocaine is one of the fastest-growing commercial areas in the UK.
Dr Honour told The Independent: "There aren't any standards for positive tests or for how the tests should be done ... If you failed a pre-employment test you might not even hear - you'd just not get offered the job."
A growing number of organisations, including Shell, BP, the Prisons Service, banks and British Rail have recently introduced random testing, and a number of companies - including Shell - ask applicants for some jobs to undergo drugs tests.
Dr Honour, of the Department of Molecular Pathology, has 25 years' experience in testing urine samples for steroids. In 1994 he began examining the tests carried out by a Spanish laboratory on a sealed urine sample provided by Ms Modahl.
That had shown a high level of breakdown products - metabolites - from the male hormone testosterone. That implied that Ms Modahl had taken the drug artificially.
But Dr Honour showed that bacteria found in urine could react with normal metabolites to produce testosterone. His evidence was crucial in reversing the August 1994 decision to ban Ms Modahl. Her name was eventually cleared last March.
He argues that similar problems could lurk for would-be employees as the use of drugs testing expands. "It's known that if you've been eating a bagel with poppy seeds on, you can test positive for opiates - drugs like heroin," he said. "The point is, each athletics test costs pounds 100, whereas companies are only paying about pounds 5."
The problem is that there is no clearly agreed standard for the minimum levels of metabolites which indicate the use of particular drugs.
"On the whole, the methods used are less sophisticated than those used by the IAAF, and there is no official regulation of companies that offer the tests," he said.
Unilabs, a London testing company, said that it was very careful to prevent "false positive" results. "We have a two-step procedure, so that if we find something in our first assay tests, we use chromatography and gas spectrometry to look for metabolites," said Fred Rutherford, head of scientific services.
People who claim innocence in industrial tribunals on drugs charges usually dropped their defence when evidence from Unilabs was presented, he added.
But not everyone adopts stringent standards. Dr Honour suggested that some testing companies might be profiting from the lack of standards in the fast-growing business of drugs testing.
"Most of the people in this area make their money from testing for companies. They do thousands of tests - so they don't want the bad side to come out. They would prop each other up," he said.
- 1 UK's biggest male rape charity Survivors UK has state funding slashed to zero despite 120% rise in men reporting sexual violence and seeking help
- 2 'Don't blame all men for rape' campaign backfires spectacularly
- 3 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 4 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 5 Charlie Charlie Challenge explained: not a Mexican demon being summoned — it's gravity
UK's biggest male rape charity Survivors UK has state funding slashed to zero despite 120% rise in men reporting sexual violence and seeking help
Iran launches anti-Isis cartoon competition 'to expose true nature of Islamic State'
Priest warns pupils the 'Charlie Charlie Challenge' is 'demonic activity'
Tinder and Grindr dating apps blamed for surge in cases of HIV, syphilis and other STDs
Fifa corruption arrests: Sepp Blatter 'quite relaxed' and confident he is 'not involved'
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
EU referendum: David Cameron to deny EU migrants and under-18s the chance to vote
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...
£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...
£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...
£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...