Illicit drug users never seem to run out of ideas for avoiding detection. Most are not successful because eventually the laboratories learn what is going on and respond appropriately by developing new testing methods. The invention and use of synthetic urine is a good example. As difficult as it is to believe, drug and alcohol users are commonly attempting to substitute synthetic or fake urine for real urine to avoid detection. Originally it was not detectable during drug testing, but that is no longer true thanks to the ingenuity of companies like Mediscreen that has developed a proprietary method of detection.

What is Synthetic Urine?

Real human urine consists of organic and inorganic substances. The organic elements are creatinine, urea, and uric acid. Urea contains most of the nitrogen in urine, so synthetic urine manufacturers do not always include uric acid in their products. Creatinine is a chemical waste product produced during the breakdown of muscle tissue. Inorganic elements found in real urine include ammonia, phosphates, sulphates, potassium, and chlorides. In synthetic urine, a small amount of ammonia may be added to mimic urine that has stood at room temperature. Ammonia levels rise because bacteria breaks down urea.

Real urine has a specific gravity and pH level, so synthetic urine is designed to stay within normal ranges.  It is over 95 percent water and is secreted by the kidneys and excreted through the urethra. Urine drug and alcohol testing is one of the most reliable detection methods on the market. In fact, when the results of saliva testing need additional confirmation, many employers require urine testing to provide indisputable results.

Synthetic urine, or fake urine, is an artificially synthesised product made in laboratories that replicates human urine in terms of chemical properties, composition, and appearance as closely as possible. It includes urea, creatinine, and minerals and nitrites. Urea was the first organic chemical compound synthesised in a laboratory, and is now being synthesised for the purpose of deception during a drug test when necessary. Synthetic urine must contain creatinine, urea, and water to have any hope of passing a drug test because drug and alcohol testing measures these three elements. As a result, synthetic creatinine is also manufactured for use in fake urine. Other substances are often added to the synthetic urine to make it as close to real urine as possible, such as uric acid and a buffer. Buffers include potassium, phosphorous, calcium, and salt.

Lab testing for synthetic urine also measures pH level or the level of acid, specific gravity, and creatinine. Normal urine ranges include pH of 4.6-8 and specific gravity of 1.005-1.030. Synthetic urine is almost identical to real urine which is why it is used for calibrating laboratory testing equipment, science research projects, and product testing (i.e. diapers).

Synthetic Urine Products

There are different variations of synthetic urine on the market. Sime products are sold as a liquid with an appearance just like urine. There are also paste, powdered, and gel forms that must be reconstituted. It should be noted that there are also companies also selling real human urine that is dehydrated. Many synthetic urine products include a heat activator which is added to the synthetic urine to raise the temperature of the urine sample within seconds to the normal temperature of real urine. Otherwise the person using it would have to have access to a heating source like a microwave. There are kits which include a heating pad which can be used to keep the fake urine specimen at body temperature for several hours after microwaving it at home or elsewhere. A temperature strip is used to track the current temperature.

One of the common mistakes drug and alcohol users make concerns the temperature of the synthetic urine. Without practice, it is likely to be under or over a natural human urine temperature. Australian Standard AS/NZS 4308, “Procedures for specimen collection and the detection and quantitation of drugs of abuse in urine” says the temperature of human urine should be between 33-38 degrees Centigrade within four minutes of collecting the sample. It can be difficult for the illicit drug and alcohol user to get the temperature right when the synthetic urine must be maintained at the right temperature for several or more hours until testing is completed.

Desperate Attempts to Escape Detection

The use of synthetic urine is getting more prevalent which is why all employers should take note. In 2012, a number of stories appeared in the media concerning the growing use of synthetic urine at mining sites. Police said the Queensland mining sites were seeing an increase in the use of fake urine and prosthetic penises. That same year, Western Australia Inspector Peter Morrissey got reports from field officers that synthetic urine was being found in the homes of drug users and drug dealers.1 In 2015, a businessman told a radio host that gas and oil FIFO workers were buying his company’s synthetic urine kits with great frequency to try and pass drug tests.2 In the same article, Steve Allsop at the National Drug Research Institute said that the use of fake urine was inspiring creative approaches to avoid detection, such as attaching a tube to the penis or hiding a condom filled with urine in the vagina. Other tricks include hiding a bag of fake urine in between two sets of underwear or in the bra, or wearing a fake penis.

Over the last year, drug dealers began selling the synthetic urine with methamphetamine, almost like a marketing strategy. Buying and selling synthetic urine is legal. It is treated like any other proprietary chemical formula, but producers are careful to not explain on the packages the intended use.

Workers across Australia, industries, and workplace settings are using synthetic urine today. It is not limited to the mining and construction industries. The synthetic urine producers have cleverly changed their formulas many times to stay ahead of the testing laboratories, but that is proving to be more difficult. Mediscreen, a sister company of CMM Technology, developed a proprietary method to detect synthetic or fake urine and will regularly adapt the method as needed. Laboratories developed synthetic urine, and it is drug testing laboratories that are unravelling the effort to escape drug use detection.