The problems, which Harberts called "horrifying," were immediately evident to her when she took the helm Sept. 21 with a six-month contract.Curiously glossed over in the story were the main reasons the department got in trouble over their urinalysis program: Faulty recordkeeping that allowed samples to be easily misidentified and excessive volume of urinalysis testing ordered by judges that overwhelmed staffers overseeing the program - a situation judges had been warned about for years. Instead, the record keeping issues weren't mentioned while Harberts counter-intuitively aims to expand the scope of urinalysis to test for more stuff, using lower thresholds for "positive" determinations.
"I have structural problems, training problems, almost every type of problem lumped in here," Harberts said. "I have to fix facilities and structures, methodology, and we need to broaden the scope of our testing; it was not sufficient."
The biggest change, Harberts said, is the testing of urine for the presence of alcohol. In the past, probation officers just used breath-testing machines.
The probation officers, she said, knew that suspects awaiting trial on bail, as well as probationers, were getting away with drinking.
Besides retraining all of the technicians and probation officers, Harberts is making threshold levels in drug tests more stringent.Notably, when Bexar County lowered thresholds for positive tests (in 2008 they switched from in-house testing to a private provider that used lower thresholds), they began to pretty regularly generate "startlingly high numbers of positive drug results." At one point, just a quarter to a third of positive UA results in Bexar were upheld by confirmation testing after the lower thresholds were put into effect. In Bexar, the problem from lower thresholds was aggravated because the department did not want to pay for more expensive confirmation testing, which led to people being jailed based on false positives.
Because drug tests are more sophisticated than "positive or negative," probation departments have to specify a number in the range where the amount of a substance is considered a "positive" test. Harberts said the new levels line up with the scientifically accepted standards, like those used in federal drug testing.
For example, she said, the number of people who have occasionally smoked marijuana without getting in trouble in the past will probably start testing positive for the drug.
Harberts said she wants to help people who are losing their grip on sobriety from falling back into their old habits.
"This is not about 'gotcha,' " she said. "This is about helping people resist cravings and work their programs."
I'd like to know: Are the new, lower thresholds similar to those Bexar implemented (and later abandoned)? Reporter Greg Harman at the San Antonio Current compiled a list in 2008 of common triggers for false positives at the lower thresholds:
So-called “false positives” can come from a variety of factors. Here is just a sample.
Marijuana? Other candidates may be Dronabinol, Advil, Motrin, Midol, Excedrin, Aleve, Phenergan, niacin, hempseed oil, or a kidney infection. Being dark-complected can also put you at higher risk of a positive test, as the body flushes excess skin pigmentation, or melanin (which resembles stoner construct THC), from the system.
Amphetamines? Check those cold meds: ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, propylephedrine, basically the whole damn cold cabinet … Robitussin Cold and Flu, NyQuil, Vicks NyQuil, nasal sprays such as Afrin, asthma meds like Primatine tablets, and a range of prescription drugs.
Opiates? Not just poppyseed muffins; Tylenol with codeine, most prescription pain meds, cough suppressants with dexotromethorphan (DXM), NyQuil, or kidney or liver disease.
Cocaine? Popular antibiotic amoxicillin, tonic water, diabetes, and kidney and liver disease.
In addition to these new questions, nothing in this article addresses the old ones. The problems that led to the DA refusing to use probation department test results didn't arise because probationers cheated on tests or employees weren't trained well, but because departmental systems weren't robust enough to handle the volume of UA tests the department conducted without mixing up which sample belonged to which probationer. One hopes that's being addressed but you wouldn't know it from this coverage. Ms. Harberts seems in this story (which opens with a titillating demonstration of phony penises used to cheat on drug tests) to want to shift the conversation from departmental practices to non-compliant probationers. I understand why she and the judges would prefer to do that, but I also wonder if the bigger problems facing the agency and potential headaches from reducing UA positive thresholds are being downplayed internally the way they were in this article.LSD? Watch out for migraine medications, including Egotamine, Ergostat, Cafergot, Wigraine, and Imitrex, among others.