How does a guy who doesn't do coke test positive several times?
October 2, 2006 3:45 PM   Subscribe

I have a friend is currently getting railroaded out of the Army for cocaine use. He tested hot at least twice (just above whatever measure they use). Problem is, he's never used cocaine. Yes, I believe him.

His defense lawyer keeps offering deals and "doesn't have the resources" to really defend him. Civilian lawyers have offered to take the case for amounts ranging between $10-$15K. At his income, he's doesn't have the money.

He is a combat vet and purple heart recipient. Could drugs given to him in the field for serious injuries set a false positive months later? Can cocaine be absorbed through the skin if he handled materials with a coating of it? How does a guy who doesn't do coke test positive several times?

Anyone have any ideas of what he might do? Anyone know an attorney in the Ft bragg area or other resources he might use?
posted by John Kenneth Fisher to Law & Government (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Cocaine - Substances or Conditions which can cause false positives
Kidney infection (kidney disease)
Liver infection (liver disease)
Amoxicillin, tonic water
posted by furtive at 3:58 PM on October 2, 2006

As a former PPO (the guy who had to conduct the urinalysis test for my squadron - no, not that part - the paperwork part) I had to attend the Navy Drug Screening Lab training course.

My first inclination would be to say - he's doing coke. It is VERY hard to get a false positive on that test, especially considering that an initial positive is tossed out by the lab for an automatic second, and even third, test of the same sample. It is an extremely thorough process.

Here's an overview of some of the training slides:

What does the positive test result mean?
Drug was found in the urine. It was identified and quantified.
The drug lab experts cannot tell you the circumstances that resulted in the positive urinalysis results.
If the accused provides an explanation, the lab experts can advise on whether the explanation is plausible.
Expert Witnesses are available to assist the triers of fact.
(appointment required for board or court martial.)

What does the command do?
Determine if there is a valid prescription that would explain the positive. Review medical records and consult MRO at the Lab.
If medical records support legal use then notify PERS.
If medical records do not support legal use, process for separation. Accused has right to defend themselves and provide explanation. Results of legal proceedings are reported to PERS.

That being said - medications can cause false positives. Also, keep in mind that they don't actually test for the presence of cocaine - but the byproducts of cocaine metabolization (is that a word?).

The specimen could have been mislabeled or tampered with (but again, highly unlikely).

A false positive CAN happen - but he'll have a hell of a time proving it. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen a case disproven. What I HAVE seen is cases explained by medication listings or extraneous circumstances - so tell him to keep up hope.

To some it up - the Drug Screening Lab is most likely not wrong... the sample they tested probably was positive for coke. How it got there and who's sample it is is another question for a military lawyer.

Best of luck to him.
posted by matty at 4:36 PM on October 2, 2006

IANAL. If your friend is adamant about not using cocaine, he should fight it, and make what ever financial arrangements are required of him to do so, even if he has to borrow at interest. He's fighting for his future, and the best lawyers he can get are none too good, and his case far from assured even with the best lawyers, if he's positive on several successive tests. But the money he spends will be a drop in the bucket, compared to what he stands to lose, if he is dishonorably discharged, and/or prosecuted for additional drug charges.

It sucks, if he has to defend himself, and is innocent, because he doesn't get the money back, if he's not convicted. That's bad, but it will be worse if he doesn't fight it tooth and nail, and goes down on charges any way, trying to save money. At least if he fights it, to court martial, and is convicted and seperated, he might be able to present his side again, in any future civilian life consideration of his service record and seperation. People who vigourously and consistently defend themselves, even in the face of convincing evidence, often find that they can at least create reasonable doubt in their guilt, in spite of conviction history, which is what he may be faced with doing, for much of his future.

As his friend, you could start a legal defense fund for him, and do some fund raising. Carry your belief in his innocence to responsible action, and you make your friendship a solid mooring for a man in one of life's major storms.
posted by paulsc at 5:11 PM on October 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

As a former servicemember, this is just kind of a wag, but I'd ask to be committed in an isolated ward at the base hospital for a couple of weeks and get tested in order to demonstrate it's something medical. I'd also ask the base chaplain to intervene somehow to make this happen. Obviously there's one half of the story we don't know, but I know if I landed in that position that's what I'd be trying to do, since it's the one and only way to prove one's case.
posted by hodyoaten at 6:25 PM on October 2, 2006

The most important thing to do now would be to claim PTSD and stuff like that so that he doesn't completely lose his Veteran's Benefits.

The first thing I would to would be to visit my doctor and do some research about PTSD and other combat/military related illnesses. Even if he did "piss positive", he may have just been self medicating. If he's really a super-trooper, and it sounds like he is, I would fight for that right to continue soldiering.

I really feel for you and your friend. There was once a time when something like this would be dealt with by his C.O. or 1st Sgt. just taking him aside and asking if he was alright.
posted by snsranch at 7:31 PM on October 2, 2006

You might try calling Drug Policy Alliance in San Francisco. My friend Julian used to work with them on a project about "sweat patch" testing and how that kind of testing was unscientific and led to false positives. I think they know about other false-positive problems, too. Good luck.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:51 PM on October 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

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