When technicians, pilots, or other licensed professionals get nailed for an alcohol addiction problem, they are often required to enter a rehab program as a condition of employment and/or maintaining their airman certificate. This typically involves attending alcohol withdrawal meetings, regular urinalyses tests for alcohol use and other monitoring elements. Breathalyzer tests, although less reliable, are also used. There are variations in rehab programs but they all include some type of frequent random urine testing for the presence of alcohol. This, of course, is in addition to standard random drug and alcohol testing for holders of safety sensitive positions in the aviation industry.
The problem with testing for alcohol presence has been that alcohol dissipates quickly, usually within hours, and therefore cannot be detected in your system after only a few hours. This presents a problem for the authorities that need to check on the people in rehab. Obviously, if one has consumed alcohol and is under the influence at the moment of the test it can easily be detected…but what if that person had a few drinks over the weekend or last week?
A new test has come down the pike that can solve that problem. The test is called the EtG test.
Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG)
EtG tests are currently being administered to those in rehab programs in some states in the search for the use of alcohol. Since alcohol is legal to use outside one's employment, these tests are generally confined to those people who are in a rehab program where they are not supposed to drink any alcoholic beverage.
This new test does not test for alcohol. It tests for the presence of ethyl glucuronide (EtG) that is produced when alcohol metabolizes in your system. The bad news for the clandestine drinker is that it can be detected in your system for up to 80 hours after drinking. Saturday and Sunday's gin and whiskey can easily be detected in Monday or Tuesday's urine test.
It's reported that sobriety enforcement is big business. The new test…is called the gold standard of urine testing…because it is so accurate. Industrial drug and alcohol testing has created a huge business that only recently has come into existence. The urine testing industry alone is alleged to be a $4 billion a year business. The new test costs $25 and the old one was priced at $7. Thus the new test is an important new source of income for the testing industry. They are pushing for its use by government agencies that license workers such as aviation mechanics, pilots, health care workers and others. Routine urine testing, as we all know, is required in broad areas of government and private enterprise where alcohol (and other drug) addicts are in recovery (rehab) programs. For example, outside the aviation business, statistics show more than 4,500 physicians are subject to drug testing where their urine is monitored regularly. Likewise, many lawyers are also involved with monitoring for alcohol addiction.
This test is also being pitched to Courts and Probation Departments that routinely demand alcohol abstinence from DUI defendants.
Recent news articles about a popular movie star being arrested for DUI talked about the necessity of his attending AA meetings and abstaining completely from alcohol as a condition of his probation. This test would be an effective deterrent to any clandestine drinking while on probation.
The Bad News
The testing folks leave out some important facts however. The EtG test can detect alcohol even in people who never touch alcohol! Sources say that the slightest trace of alcohol in your system can be detected now from such mundane things as foods, medicines, personal care products and some popular items we use to clean our hands. They all have some alcohol.
Critics say this test is flawed because it even picks up any inhaled alcohol fumes and treats this inhalation exposure the same as a drink. Authorities defending the use of the test maintain that any alcohol ingestion, in any form, could trigger a return to alcohol use by an addict. Therefore they should refrain from ingestion of any kind of source for alcohol.
Federal government agencies have recently found that the EtG test will pick up alcohol in whiskey, beer or a hand cleaning product called Purell. These hand cleaning products can put small amounts of alcohol into your system that are enough for positive test results. Because of the severe penalties, like loss of jobs, some Feds say the test has to be refined further before total acceptance. We all recall, for example, how poppy seeds can give a false indication of opiate use in some people. But the fact is that the test is being used in some states now.
Some observers are concerned that as this test is used more and more it will adversely affect people who are not problem drinkers. They argue that it would be unfair to demand that the urine of people being tested be free of any trace of alcohol because there is no listing of all products that contain alcohol. Various mouthwashes and common cold remedies contain alcohol. Furthermore, it can also be found in ice cream, cakes, fruit, salad dressing, insect spray, meat, auto fuel and many other substances that we come in contact with or eat daily.
The physician who started the use of this test maintains that an unfair test could convince addicts to avoid entering a rehab program voluntarily. He claims that even incidental exposure to alcohol could create higher levels of EtG than he imagined. He says that health care workers are particularly vulnerable to the test because of their huge use of hand sanitizers. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are routinely used in factories, hospitals, schools and other health care facilities. Needless to say they are also used extensively in the aviation industry. If one were to use these products and be subject to urine testing for alcohol use they would most likely provide positive tests without knowing the reason.
The same doctor is now asking states to refrain from taking any action against an employee or licensee based on a urine EtG test alone. He says other factors should be considered.
If you are required to participate in an alcohol rehab program as a condition of your further employment or probation in a DUI conviction be aware that the test is out there and may be used in your case management. Be sure and ask what kind of test is being administered to your urine and is it the EtG test? If it is, pay special attention to what you use and eat before you test. It could mean your job if your test shows positive for alcohol on one or more tests.
We do not have a list of states that are using this test, so if you have any personal experience with it or know people who have, please forward any details so that we can get the word out to our readers. E-mail to .