Whistleblower Says 30 Percent Of Averhealth's Drug Tests Provide False Results

Criminal Justice System
Whistleblower Says 30 Percent Of Averhealth's Drug Tests Provide False Results

People take drug tests for all kinds of reasons, and in nearly all cases, the result of those tests can change their lives. They can lose a job or not be hired, they can lose custody of their children and they can be sent to prison. It's a really, really big deal. We trust these tests and assume they are accurate. After all, they're scientific. And if the person who is tested says it's not true ... how can we believe a drug addict over science?

Well, it turns out that at least some of those tests may not be as accurate as we have been led to believe.

A Freedom of Information Act request obtained by VICE reveals that during a family court case in Michigan last year, a former lab director at Averhealth drug testing service testified that up to 30 percent of the tests produced false results.


Via VICE:

Averhealth’s former lab director Sarah Riley testified during a family court case last year that up to 30 percent of the company’s test results submitted to the state of Michigan were wrong, including both false positives and false negatives, according to a court transcript obtained by VICE News through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Did you say 30 percent, ma’am?” the judge asked her. “Three zero,” Riley replied.

Although Averhealth denies that anyone involved in cases using its tests has brought up concerns, judges and caseworkers were writing to their superiors behind the scenes, with stories of clients who had seemingly erroneous results, according to internal emails obtained by VICE News. In three counties, courts also dramatically reduced testing or stopped using Averhealth altogether.

“We don’t trust them,” one Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) supervisor wrote to her colleagues in January 2021 about Averhealth. “We are making BIG decisions, including having parents leave home or removal, and that’s scary to do when you don’t trust who you’re getting services from. Is there a different agency we can use?”

By March of this year, the Michigan DHHS decided to suspend their $27 million contract with Averhealth.

This is a very big deal. Caseworkers saying they believe their clients over a drug test is just not the kind of thing that happens very often. If it's happening this often, it's hard to believe there isn't something suspicious going on.

There's sort of a dirty secret when it comes to the technology and science used to monitor drug and alcohol use — a lot of it is not great. It's not just the drug tests. Interlock devices and SCRAM bracelets are both known to set off false positives, for which users can be charged lots and lots of money. A particular irony is that not only is it often difficult for people with asthma to breathe hard enough to work an Interlock device ... but using an asthma inhaler will set it off. Also certain kinds of lipstick, energy drinks, soy sauce, eating bread, taking Flonase, wearing perfume or hairspray and other things that are very much not "drinking alcohol" can set it off and lead to an arrest. Not to mention the fact that they've been known to cause accidents themselves by distracting drivers. A source who asked not to be named tells me that they were told not only by their lawyer but by the people who were supposed to install the device that they are basically designed to fail because the more they fail the more money the state rakes in.

It is very hard to give much of a shit about this. After all, we're usually talking about drug addicts and drunk drivers here, and who has empathy for them? They put our lives at risk and, after all, it's better to be safe than sorry. And besides — isn't this better for them than going to jail? But all of these things should matter. Part of the reason our criminal justice system is so messed up now is because, as a society, we spent so much time not caring, putting injustices and systemic failures out of our minds because the people they were happening to were probably bad people to begin with.

We're also inclined to want to be able to trust science when it comes to criminal justice issues. We want to be able to say "here's solid proof that this thing happened, here's how we can be sure" because the idea of being unsure is horrifying. No one wants to be responsible for punishing an innocent person or allowing a guilty person to cause further harm and it feels better to "trust science" in these cases than our own judgment. But unless we're 1000 percent sure that the "science" is accurate and that it produces the correct results every single time, it shouldn't be trusted in these matters.

Averhealth says there's nothing wrong with their drug tests. They say they plan to file suit against the state of Michigan for defamatory statements and they say they are prepared to "defend and validate its processes and protocols."

But the state of Michigan is doing the right thing here. If there is any question — and it seems fair to say that a former lab director coming forward and saying that these tests are not accurate — they cannot use these tests to determine something as serious as whether or not someone's child is taken away.

[VICE]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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