January 10, 2012 in Features

False-positive drug test nixes job offer

Kathy Mitchell/Marcy Sugar

Dear Annie: A few years ago, I was ready to begin a new job pending a drug test and was told to call a few days after for my start date. I live cleanly and don’t touch drugs or alcohol.

I contacted the company and left a voicemail. I called again the next day. This went on for a week until I finally managed to get a real person on the phone. She said my drug test was positive and I was ineligible for employment. I protested and asked for a re-test. She said they wouldn’t do that and the job had already been given to someone else.

Now I am in the job market again and rightly am concerned about drug testing. I still don’t know what caused my false positive. I’ve researched the issue and found that cold medicines, pain relievers, prescription medication and even an individual’s normal body chemistry could cause a false positive.

So here’s my dilemma: If I should be offered a job contingent upon a drug test and I decline to take the test, I won’t get the job. But if I take the test and get a false positive, I risk losing the job and also losing my unemployment benefits. What should I do? – Innocent While “Proven” Guilty

Dear Innocent: Drug tests generally produce false-positive results in 5 to 10 percent of cases. Some perfectly legal substances, including certain foods and prescription medications, can produce false positives (e.g., poppy seed bagels, some cold medications, antidepressants, antibiotics and pain meds). The National Institutes of Health encourages anyone who may require a drug screening to ask your pharmacist or health provider about specific medications that might give a false-positive result. Inform your potential employer in advance, and request that they confirm the results through gas-chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS).

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