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 Should Apple buy Greece?
- 2 Michael Douglas regrets 'embarrassing' Catherine Zeta-Jones with oral sex comments
- 3 Drummer Lee Rigby's family reject 'extremist' groups using Woolwich murder for political gain
- 4 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 5 Fox News anchor asks 'what's to prevent' three people from marrying after same-sex marriage legalised
Michael Douglas regrets 'embarrassing' Catherine Zeta-Jones with oral sex comments
Drummer Lee Rigby's family reject 'extremist' groups using Woolwich murder for political gain
Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
Dutch city of Utrecht to experiment with a universal, unconditional 'basic income'
Tunisia hotel shooting video: Dramatic footage appears to show gunman Seifeddine Rezgui running on Sousse beach
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Austerity is essential if Britain wants to reduce inequality – why can't the left-wingers who march against it realise this?
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Extend Right To Buy to tenants of private landlords, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn says
David Cameron struck double blow in his hopes to win Britain a new EU deal
£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...
£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...
£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...
£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...