Will I fail this drug test and ruin my whole life?
November 30, 2010 12:02 PM   Subscribe

So, about 2 months ago I took some Phentermine, about 7 pills over the course of 2 weeks. I didn't have a prescription. I now have to take a hair test for a new job and bonus! if I test positive I will get reported to the authorities, mandatory.

It seems like that wouldn't be enough of the med to show but considering it's my whole career on the line, I wonder how safe am I in taking this drug test? I took the "at home" version from hairconfirm and tested negative but I cannot seem to figure out how reliable they are. Any ideas? (I know it was a dumb thing to do, really I do. I was swept away by a momentary vanity and do so regret it)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (37 answers total)
Would they seriously fail you for taking a prescription diet pill? I can't believe that they would. You'd be more likely to fail for eating poppy seed bagels.
posted by BishopFistwick at 12:08 PM on November 30, 2010

Um... I think you're bean-plating the hell out of this. Phentermine is not an illicit drug. It's an appetite suppressant.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:08 PM on November 30, 2010

I confess myself a little confused.

Googling "phentermine" only brings up standard prescription information. It doesn't seem like a controlled or restricted substance outside of that.

Drug tests are for illegal drugs. You didn't have a legal prescription, but the drug itself seems legal..

Unless for some reason your job specifically lists appetite suppressants as something you absolutely cannot take; I think you're worrying for nothing.
posted by royalsong at 12:09 PM on November 30, 2010

I don't know whether or not you will test positive for the drug, but do you know if they will ask to see your prescription? I am on a legally prescribed Schedule IV controlled substance, and presumably tested positive for it, but I was never asked to show my prescription for it. I know someone on a Schedule II drug (even more tightly controlled) who was likewise never asked for their prescription. So it's possible that even if it does show up, it won't be a problem. It depends what type of job it is.
posted by desjardins at 12:10 PM on November 30, 2010

The the OP took without a script.
posted by fixedgear at 12:10 PM on November 30, 2010

If you test positive for WHAT? Any drugs including prescriptions? Illegal (in your jurisdiction) drugs? have they given you any info?
posted by pointystick at 12:10 PM on November 30, 2010

I don't have any specialized information about drug tests, but I don't think they test for prescription drugs, unless they are analogues of street drugs, which I don't think that Phentermine is. Worst case scenario, you explain that you borrowed a few from a friend for weight loss or something like that and didn't know they were a controlled substance. I doubt 'the authorities' will care.
posted by empath at 12:11 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've never been asked to produce a prescription when I've had to submit to a drug test. I'm guessing the concern here is that Phentermine has chemical properties similar to Amphetamines. But still think this is all easily explainable.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:12 PM on November 30, 2010

You're fine.

P.S. Don't waste your time with Phentermine.
posted by unixrat at 12:14 PM on November 30, 2010

I don't know the technical answer, but wouldn't now be a great time to cut your hair as short as you can manage? If you're a man, a #1 buzz would really do the trick. Even if you're a woman -- would you like a very short choppy cut?

I'd think this would be much more likely to raise suspicions than anything else.
posted by Sara C. at 12:19 PM on November 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Corporate drug tests are usually looking for a few specific things - which are the things you'd pretty much expect (pot, coke, heroin, etc.) Testing for a legal prescription drug would be a complete waste of their money.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:26 PM on November 30, 2010

Just to add some context, pseudoephedrine is also in the amphetamine class but it's not going to show up in a drug test. They're looking for the big ones: marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, opiates, etc. I seriously doubt a diet pill taken at therapeutic levels is going to register.

Here: Hair Testing FAQ. Don't worry about it.
posted by sbutler at 12:27 PM on November 30, 2010

Standard drug tests test for the following:

1. Cannabinoids (marijuana, hash)
2. Cocaine (cocaine, crack, benzoylecognine)
3. Amphetamines (amphetamines, methamphetamines, speed)*
4. Opiates (heroin, opium, codeine, morphine)
5. Phencyclidine (PCP)

Expanded drug tests, which are rarely used in employment screening (because a lot of this stuff you can get a prescription for, and employers don't want to/can't get into the question of whether or not you should be taking it), can also test for:

  • Barbiturates
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Methaqualone (Quaaludes)
  • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Rohypnol)
  • Methadone
  • Propoxyphene
  • Alcohol
  • MDMA (Ecstasy)

    There are some additional things that can be tested for, which are even more rare (LSD, Tryptamines, etc)

    * Note: though phentermines similarity to amphetamines has it qualified as a controlled substance in some places (and available by prescription here), it will not trigger the hair test. But as others have said, if something comes back wonky or you are concerned about this, simply list Phentermine as one of the drugs you take when you go into the drug test. Then, if it comes up, you have an explanation. I have been drug tested a bunch and have never been asked to offer up proof.

    In other words, you are all kinds of fune

  • posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:27 PM on November 30, 2010 [7 favorites]

    fine damnit... fine
    posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:27 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

    I've never heard of police following up on hair test leads. I'd think the only way you'd really have a chance to get 'in trouble' is if you were on probation or in some sort of program.
    posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 12:35 PM on November 30, 2010

    One other thing. The vast majority of these programs are done under a strictly written policy which should describe exactly what is being tested for and whether they look for or ask for prescriptions.

    Ask for this written drug testing policy.
    posted by bitdamaged at 12:38 PM on November 30, 2010

    I know this totally depends on the job, but have you considered just disclosing it?
    posted by endless_forms at 12:44 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

    I've done pre-employment and random screenings. They look at me like I'm an idiot when I ask if they want to see my prescription bottles. I even got the idiot look when it was serious pain meds. Just disclose the drug on the form, and hold off on the poppy seeds and orange juice.
    posted by SMPA at 12:58 PM on November 30, 2010

    Just tell them you're taking phentermine. They will not ask you for the prescription.

    They would only ask you for a prescription if you were taking a drug that might be used recreationally--the ones that MCMikeNamara enumerated above.

    Stop both beanplating and taking phentermine. That shit doesn't work.
    posted by Sidhedevil at 1:03 PM on November 30, 2010

    (P.S. to OP after re-reading what I wrote -- I only know all of this because I have been as concerned as you are now about things I needed not worry about in the past. I did not mean to seem harsh in my response - just to say you can chill)
    posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:27 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

    If you are super duper worried about it...could you just ask your doctor for a prescription?

    (but I agree with everyone above, you have nothing to worry about)
    posted by ian1977 at 1:43 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

    The thing is that if you took phentermine under a doctor's order and discontinued it, you would not have the prescription ready to hand, either. So they really, really aren't going to ask you for a prescription weeks after you discontinued the medication.
    posted by Sidhedevil at 2:21 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

    hold off on the poppy seeds and orange juice

    What's the issue with orange juice?
    posted by fuse theorem at 3:22 PM on November 30, 2010

    There's no issue with orange juice, but there are urban legends about it. It's usually on the order of "some guy went for a test and the tester told him that the orange juice was why he got a false positive."

    Orange juice is equally heralded as a way to beat drug tests because of its supposedly superior diuretic qualities. You will see a lot of people on weed sites swearing by it.
    posted by Sidhedevil at 3:29 PM on November 30, 2010

    I think a lot of people answering this have no idea whether they are right or not. "Phentermine is not an illicit drug" for example? It's a controlled substance in many places since it is amphetamine-like.

    Others have assured the OP that it will not show up in a hair test. I don't think they know if that is true, and in fact I have no confidence that it wouldn't show up as a positive amphetamine result. I'm not certain about that, but I don't think the people claiming it wouldn't are certain either. Does anyone making that claim have an actual citation?

    OP: I would not take any answers as fact without citation, particularly any claims that Phentermine will not produce a positive hair test.

    Also, BlahLaLa's advice to get a buzz cut is hilariously awful. That will be taken as failing the test. You're likely better off just quitting rather than trying something that dumb.
    posted by Justinian at 4:29 PM on November 30, 2010

    * Note: though phentermines similarity to amphetamines has it qualified as a controlled substance in some places (and available by prescription here), it will not trigger the hair test.

    This is specifically what I'm referring to. What's the basis for this claim, MCMikeNamara? I mean, you might be right, but I'd have to see something authoritative before I'd believe it for sure.
    posted by Justinian at 4:30 PM on November 30, 2010

    Justinian, the larger issue is that none of us have never heard of anyone being asked for a prescription in hand when they disclose that that they have taken a prescription-only medication. The OP should say that they took phentermine and discontinued it as of the date they discontinued it, and they will hear no more about it.
    posted by Sidhedevil at 5:24 PM on November 30, 2010

    After all, the purpose of corporate drug tests are not to weed out the people who are suckers for useless weight-loss aids.
    posted by Sidhedevil at 5:25 PM on November 30, 2010

    Sidhedevil: That may well be true and may solve the OP's problem, but that doesn't mean that other information which may be bad shouldn't be challenged.
    posted by Justinian at 5:37 PM on November 30, 2010

    Also, BlahLaLa's advice to get a buzz cut is hilariously awful. That will be taken as failing the test. You're likely better off just quitting rather than trying something that dumb.

    This is completely false (justinian's comment). In no way is a short haircut ever taken to mean an immediate "failing" of a drug test. Were that the case, all people that maintain a short haircut would be deemed drug users and totally ineligible for any employment that required a drug test. That said, cutting your hair is pointless; you will just be asked for body hair. And, likely, the person administering the test will see through your ruse (not that they will then "fail" you, just that they will know why you are claiming to be totally hairless).

    Really, though, you probably are worrying for nothing. While it is certainly possible that it will hit as an amphetamine on a hair test, it is very unlikely that the levels would be high enough to raise any flags. It would, I think, be similar in quantity to a "positive" amphetamine result someone might receive after taking some cold medicine.

    The advice to get a copy of your employers DT policy is probably the best. Ultimately, though, I would not worry over it.
    posted by broadway bill at 6:18 PM on November 30, 2010

    hmm I dunno...I know an MD who was taking it but lots of it and she tested positive for amphetamines and had to come up with a valid prescription. If not there is a mandatory disclosure to the state (same as nurses, CNA's etc.). I have no idea how much is too much but it does indeed show up as amphetamines in hair tests.
    posted by yodelingisfun at 6:40 PM on November 30, 2010

    I used to do QC for a company that manufactures diagnostic tests, including drug tests.

    A couple things worth mentioning:

    - This is a hair test, which is more sensitive/accurate than urine or blood tests. It can test for drug usage over a greater period of time and has greater sensitivity. You should still keep in mind that more accurate doesn't mean accurate. There is always a chance for false positives. There are odd factors that influence this likelihood. For example, the consumption of poppyseeds can theoretically cause a false palse positive for opiates. (I never personally saw this, neither did my superior, FYI. This was one of the first questions I asked him given how often it's thrown around.) This is why positives or anything unusual are verified, sent for further testing, etc. Think of the liability employers face. There is a HUGE potential for inaccurate results. I saw a lot of cases where one or more people were testing positive and it was known for a fact that no one was on the drug. More than once there was something wrong with the test. So keep that in mind... the tests aren't infalliable even though the methodology behind them sounds solid, positives are looked into, etc.

    - I would be extremely surprised if they are testing beyond the standard 10-panel drugs. Phentermine isn't one of these. Yes, it's true that phentermine is similar to amphetamine. Yeah, it's possible it could be mistakenly picked up as amphetamine. You're taking a hair test, however, which they likely chose over a urine test because of it's greater sensitivity. If it tested positive, they're going to look into it. You can't assume this shit is true.

    Also, tests have cut-off levels. These numbers can be raised and lowered to modify the selectivity. The idea is that below this number, a given drug shouldn't show up. Part of the reason they have cut-offs is to differentiate between different drugs in a class, increase accuracy, etc. A good example is opiates. Opiates are included in standard 5 and 10 panel tests. A drug not included in this class is Oxycontin, by all means an opiate-- a very commonly prescribed and abused opiate. You can modify the cut-off level to rule out drugs. This is how they make the distinction between the different opiates.

    No one here can tell you what's going to happen. If I were in your shoes, based on what I have seen in my job, I wouldn't be as worried as you seem to be. I am definitely not saying dismiss the possibility that it's going to show up. I think the odds are in your favor. Take the test. Worst case scenario: you test positive and they report you to the authorities as they say (I'm assuming in between the two the necessary steps are taken to verify the positive). If these authorities are interested in your case (unlikely, there is where I personally would NOT be worrying if I were in your shoes), you tell them your friend gave you a few as a weight loss aid. They didn't do anything / made you feel sick, so you stopped after taking a few and only now after the fact did you find out that what they were, and that they're illegal. The "authorities" are not worried about you. They just found a 20 mile underground drug tunnel going from CA to Mexico. That's what they're interested in. And honestly, I know many well-educated people who don't know what phentermine is or have only heard of it, but don't necessarily know much beyond that it's a stimulant, or that it's illegal.
    posted by overyourhead at 8:57 PM on November 30, 2010

    This is completely false (justinian's comment). In no way is a short haircut ever taken to mean an immediate "failing" of a drug test.

    That isn't at all what I said. I said getting your hair shaved off immediately before an announced hair test would be taken as an admission. Replace "would" with "may well" if you want, but I know for an absolute certainty that this is sometimes policy.
    posted by Justinian at 9:39 PM on November 30, 2010

    I really hate to be a negative comment but...
    I was asked for a prescription for pain medication I was on. The testing place would not look at the prescription bottle beforehand or make a note. In my case a positive opiate screen triggered the more extensive testing.
    The doctor called me and said...you tested positive for xx chemical which usually indicates hydrocodone. I replied hmm that would be because I've been prescribed hydrocodone thanks to getting my foot smashed by a pick up truck! I had just moved 4 hours away from my previous address to begin a new job. They required me to get the original prescription (label off of the prescription bottle did not count :( ). They actually wanted me to go to the pharmacy and get a copy of it myself and then take it to a testing facility. Umm no go dudes, still no driving and my partner was out of state for a funeral. I had to argue to get them to just accept a fax from the pharmacy and I had to convince the pharmacy to fax said prescription. Mind you this is a controlled substance that the pharmacy has to maintain records on. I doubt the diet medication is under the same rules. But I do not know that.
    But I did want to point out that I am one person who has been required to produce a prescription. BTW this was a contract position with the federal government which might trigger a more extensive testing procedure.
    posted by Librarygeek at 2:35 AM on December 1, 2010

    For example, the consumption of poppyseeds can theoretically cause a false palse positive for opiates. (I never personally saw this, neither did my superior, FYI. This was one of the first questions I asked him given how often it's thrown around.)

    There's an episode of Mythbusters where they take up Poppy Seeds vs. Home Urinalysis testing.

    The tests caught it almost right away. I bet YT has it...

    posted by unixrat at 6:51 AM on December 1, 2010

    That's great re: poppyseeds and I don't doubt that it happens. What I said was neither I (me?) nor my supervisor ever encountered a false positive for opiates due to poppyseeds. In situations where we were trying to determine why people were falsely testing positive, poppyseeds were a consideration. It's even included in the insert. It wasn't the go-to explanation, but it was a possibility. Honestly, I don't even know how you can pinpoint it that definitively, but the point in verifying results isn't so much figuring out what caused the positive, but rather whether the drug in question really was present.

    I do not believe the poppyseed thing happens at the frequency people think it happens. From my past work experience doing quality control for drug tests (30% of my day was 'insuring' that a given batch was good, the other 70% was figuring out why the hell *I* was testing positive for MDMA when I've never used it in my life.), most of the time there is no explanation for faulty results. If the OP tests positive for amphetamines, I'm willing to bet it was more likely due to factors outside of her control (there's something wrong with the batch of tests, it was stored improperly, or maybe there isn't an explanation at all) than because phentermine is in his/her system and it's fucking things up.

    You know how with pregnancy tests they say there is no such thing as a false positive because HCG is either there or it isn't? It's not like that with drug tests.

    OP, if you test positive, they're going to look into it (the lab, not your employers). They will likely see that, hey, you haven't really been taking amphetamines. And then that false positive will be disregarded. The only legitimate positive you're facing is with phentermine and I'm pretty sure they're NOT testing for that. I don't even know if phentermine tests exist.
    posted by overyourhead at 3:52 PM on December 1, 2010

    What matters is the percentage of how many people who take a drug test will have actually used drugs vs the percentage change that the test will return a false positive. If one out of 1000 people who take a drug test are using a drug, and the drug test has a 1% false positive rate, you're going to have 10 times as many false positives as you will actual hits. I doubt the odds are anything like that, though.
    posted by empath at 9:18 PM on December 1, 2010

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