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Updated 1/20/2023

People may be asked to take a drug test for a few different reasons. Drug tests are required for employment at many private and government employers, as well as if you want to participate in many sports. If you’ve never had anything to do with drugs, you’re probably thinking it’s no big deal — until you get caught off-guard by false-positive test results, asking yourself, your friend, and Google: “How to dispute a false positive drug test result?

False positive” refers to results of a drug screening that say the test detected the presence of a substance when a person has not actually taken the substance.  Certain foods, medications, or other substances can cause a false positive reading. Drug screens check a person’s system for the presence of drugs or illegal substances. However, it is possible for a test to have a false-positive result.   Knowing what a false positive is and how to avoid this problem can be important for anyone expecting to take a drug test. Urine drug screens are the most common test, although other body fluids may be analyzed as well. Many commonly used substances can trigger a false-positive test result. If you’re certain that the result is false, immediately take action and dispute false-positive results. How? Let’s find it out!

What Commonly Used Substances Are Likely to Cause False Positive Test Results?

Have you been asked to provide a biological sample for drug screening? A positive drug test can have some undesirable repercussions. Your boss may use it to suspend or fire you; it may ruin your reputation or even bar you from participating in various activities such as sporting activities. It also necessitates a rehabilitation plan to ensure you can cope with the urge to use illicit substances.

While a positive drug test indicates the presence of some form of an illicit drug in the body, simple tests such as an immunoassay test (IA) often do not suffice to show one’s sobriety or lack thereof. It is possible to possess metabolic forms of illicit drugs in your system without actually taking illegal medication. When you are screened using the IA test, your results are likely to come back positive even though you have not abused the drug being tested.

 These results are commonly known as false positives. They show the presence of some form of the illicit drug in the body even though the drug may have been obtained in other ways and not abusing the drug being tested. A test such as IA test is less accurate than Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-SM); hence, more likely to bring back a false positive.

A false positive can be caused by a wide range of items, including everyday products such as poppy seeds and ibuprofen. These substances may be ingested for reasons such as medical purposes or as ingredients for our everyday foodstuffs. However, they are broken down in the body and may present as metabolic forms of illegal substances in simple tests. One requires complex and, often, expensive tests such as GC-SM or high-performance liquid chromatography to accurately establish if the metabolic forms were introduced into the body from illegal substances. Here are ten everyday products that may cause a false positive.

1. Food

Can you imagine your desire to satisfy your need to eat is the reason why you get a positive drug test? Well, it sounds crazy, but food can be a source of a false positive during a drug test. It is possible for your drug test to come back as a false positive for alcohol once you consume a lot of food that is rich in yeast. During the metabolism of yeast, ethanol is formed as a by-product. Once you are subjected to a breathalyzer after you have consumed food rich in yeast, the ethanol that forms during metabolism can bring back a false positive for alcohol. As such, food such as bread, ripe fruits, and pizza ought to be avoided when you are going to be subjected to a drug screening in a few hours. Granola bars can also lead to a false positive. Granola bars have hemp seeds as one of their ingredients. The hemp seeds can bring a false positive when testing for cannabis or THC.

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2. Sudafed/ Pseudoephedrine

A harmless substance used to treat sinusitis, nasal congestion, and allergies resulting in breathing difficulties, Sudafed can lead to a false positive during the screening of drugs. Manufacturers use manufactured amphetamines to make Sudafed; hence, when broken down in the body, it can lead to traces of methamphetamines or amphetamines being detected in your blood. These compounds are detectable during drug screening for up to two days after consumption.

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3. Ibuprofen

Can you believe that curing pain with ibuprofen can lead to a false positive? Ibuprofen is routinely prescribed by doctors or physicians to cure sickness or inflammation in the body. It is a member of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory class of drugs.

Once ingested, it takes around three hours for ibuprofen to lead to a false positive of cannabis, barbiturates, and PCP in your urine. The wrong positive shows for people whose consumption falls within the range of 800 to 1200 milligrams per day. These users of the drug can have a false positive for marijuana use in the IA test. Subsequent confirmatory tests such as high-performance liquid chromatography and GC-SM test are required to ascertain whether the first positive result is genuine or a false positive.

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4. Antiretroviral Drugs

These are common drugs that have efavirenz. This component presents itself as an illicit substance during screening. Efavirenz can easily be mistaken for the presence of benzodiazepine and marijuana in the blood. One can easily be mistaken for an illegal drug user even though they are using ARVs. Secondary confirmatory testing is necessary to ascertain if one is abusing drugs or not.

Overland IOP| #1 Intensive Outpatient Programs | Los Angeles CA Antiretroviral-Drugs

5. Sertraline

When you are seeking employment, your potential employer may subject you to a mandatory drug test as a condition for work. Once the results are back, a positive test result is likely to ensure your potential employer passes up the chance of hiring you. However, it is crucial you notify your employer if you are using sertraline before the drug test. This notification is essential as it will not jeopardize your credibility as you make your case after a false positive.

Sertraline is an antidepressant and the leading source of a false positive. Once broken down in the body, sertraline forms traces of benzodiazepine that are detected during drug screening. A majority of antidepressants such as sertraline have similar chemical structures to amphetamines and benzodiazepine. When it is broken down in the body, it results in the same end products as those that are formed after benzodiazepine is broken down; hence, the false positive.

Overland IOP| #1 Intensive Outpatient Programs | Los Angeles CA sertraline-can-cause-false-positive-drug-test

6. Poppy Seeds

Poppy seeds are everyday harmless substances we use for several reasons. It may be an ingredient in making porridge and cake. We also use it as a treatment for constipation, diarrhea, sleeping difficulty, and cough. However, using poppy seeds a day or two before a drug test can lead to a false positive. Poppy seeds contain traces of morphine and codeine in their natural state. A false positive can be brought about by poppy seeds when you are being screened for the use of morphine or codeine.

Can you imagine an innocent bite off that cookie you made causing you trouble at work? Consuming cookies made from poppy seeds can result in a false positive. The breakdown of the wafer can result in a false positive for up to two days from the ingestion of the cookie.

In light of poppy seeds resulting in false positives, the DHHS raised the cut-off point of opiates to 1999 ng/ml. This increase was necessary to distinguish people abusing codeine and morphine from innocent people who enjoyed foodstuffs made with poppy seeds and those who use them for medicinal purposes.

Overland IOP| #1 Intensive Outpatient Programs | Los Angeles CA HOW TO DISPUTE A FALSE POSITIVE DRUG TEST

7. Prednisone

Prednisone belongs to a broad category of substances called glucocorticoids and is used in the treatment of inflammation that is caused by rheumatoid or asthma conditions. People also use it to remedy high calcium levels that may be caused by insufficient production by the adrenal gland or cancer and for suppression of one’s immune system. This alternative use of prednisone can alter your drug test to bring back a false positive.

False positives can be gotten if prednisone is used up to a day before the drug test. Prednisone brings back a false positive for steroids since it is a steroid itself. Further experiments are necessary to distinguish false positives that are occasioned by a false positive due to the use of prednisone before the drug test.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) (omeprazole, esomeprazole, pantoprazole) are widely prescribed for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn symptoms. Taking PPIs daily can result in a false-positive test.

Overland IOP| #1 Intensive Outpatient Programs | Los Angeles CA prednisone-can-cause-false-positive-test-result

8. Passive Weed Smoking

Nearly everyone has come across people indulging in some marijuana in their life. The distinguishing difference for a large percentage of people is some come across them regularly while some rarely. These marijuana users can be your friends, neighbors, family, or just strangers. However, your interaction with such people can lead to a false positive.

A false positive happens if testing for marijuana is done a day after exposure. Additionally, there is a high likelihood of a false positive if the person being screened is confined in a similar room as smokers smoke you inhale after smokers exhale can lead to traces of marijuana being present in your body.

Overland IOP| #1 Intensive Outpatient Programs | Los Angeles CA passive-weed-smoking-can-cause- false-positive- drug-test

9. Cold Medication

It is common practice to rush to the drug store and get some over-the-counter drugs whenever we are suffering from a cold. However, little do we know that these OTC drugs may present a false positive during a drug test.

Common cold medications may present a false positive when screening for amphetamines. These cold medications contain brompheniramine which yields similar by-products as methamphetamines when they are metabolized in the body. Cold medication such as Vicks inhaler, a treatment for nasal congestion caused by flu, has levomethamphetamine which, when tested, shows a similar structure to methamphetamine. This structure leads to a false positive even though one has not actively ingested methamphetamines.

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10. Baby Soap

It is no secret that mothers have to wash their infant babies often during the day. While cleaning them, mothers use solvents such as Aveeno Soothing Relief Creamy Wash and CVS Night-time Baby Bath. When babies who use these solvents are tested for marijuana use, their samples are likely to bring back a false positive even though neither the baby nor the mother has come into contact with marijuana. This false positive occurs due to the use of these solvents. The use of marijuana during pregnancy can lead to babies being born with congenital anomalies; hence, when this anomaly shows babies are likely to be screened for traces of marijuana in their system.

It is not clear how traces of marijuana end up in the infants’ system. However, some health professionals speculate that the presence of a marijuana-like substance in their system is due to the chemical structure of some of the components of the solvents. They claim that some ingredients have a similar chemical structure as THC, which is an active ingredient in marijuana. Exactly how the soap contents make their way to the infant’s body system is still a mystery.

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How to Dispute a False-Positive Drug Test Result?

It is advisable for you to disclose all the substances that you are taking that may lead to a false positive before a drug test. However, if you fail to disclose it before the drug test and you are confident that you have not used any illicit substances before the drug test, you should dispute it:

  1. Re-test. Typically, your original sample will be retested using a more advanced testing method that separates out substances that might interfere with the results and offer your samples for a second confirmatory test. 
  2. Disclose substances you’ve taken that might have caused the result. If you were taking something that might’ve caused a false-positive result, the lab can do another type of test to verify that you haven’t touched the drugs being tested. Letting your employer, principal or coach know about these substances can go a long way toward convincing them you deserve a second chance.
Overland IOP| #1 Intensive Outpatient Programs | Los Angeles CA false-positive-drug-test.

Confirmatory tests such as Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry and the High-Performance Liquid Chromatography Test can dispel any doubts as to the reliability of the test results. Many people often rely on these more accurate tests for confirmation. They are not the initial test as they are expensive and require sophisticated equipment.

Medical Review Officer Guidance Manual for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs prepared by SAMHSADOWNLOAD PDF

What If the Confirmatory Test Comes Back Positive?

If the confirmatory advanced drug tests come back as positive and you are 100% it is false-positive – you probably want to consult an attorney.

If you are not so sure it is “false-positive” – do not despair as there is still a way for you to get back to your clean life. 

You might want to get a consultation at a reputable substance abuse treatment center, like Overland IOP in Los Angeles California. Their qualified professionals provide a personalized treatment plan that can ease the road to recovery. They will listen to you, analyze your predicament, and offer helpful insights and medication that help you suppress your urge to use drugs. After making an inquiry and being assessed on your condition allow our skilled experts to walk with you as you seek a clean, drug-free life. Get help now by reaching out to us today or contact us via phone, live chat, or contact form submission to learn more on how we can help you get back to your best, clean life! We work 24/7!

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Updated 02/08/2022

Overland IOP Los Angeles California

Overland IOP is a facility that demonstrates personalized care to every individual that arrives here, as every person is different and has unique requirements and objectives they want to meet. Our team, at Overland IOP,  offers services that range from mental health counseling to rehabilitative services for various and complex addictions. Navigating the world of recovery and healing should not be a singular undertaking, especially when such beneficial resources such as ours exist and are here to help. With the new California mental health law, quality care and support have become significantly more accessible to those that are in urgent need of mental health aid, and Overland IOP is undoubtedly one of the best facilities in the state when it comes to providing these crucial services. Overland Intensive Outpatient is ready to provide both in-person and virtual care (Telehealth services). Help is only one call away! We work 24/7.

Published: April 12, 2021

Last Updated: January 20, 2023


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