Eight Miles High at the Massachusetts Crime Lab: Another Glaring Systems Failure in Drug Testing

“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.
Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

 Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 7.39.25 PM

 A knowing smile must have come across Sonja Farak’s face if she ever read the above quote from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas during her nearly eight-years as a chemist for the  Massachusetts crime lab. The list of  illicit pharmaceuticals found in the trunk of Dr. Gonzo’s red Chevrolet convertible was not unlike her very own workstation stash in terms of diversity and color.  Farak’s personal bindle, however, just happened to reside within the walls of the Amherst facility where she worked as a chemist analyzing seized substances brought in by police and the buffet of illicit pharmaceuticals and industrial quantities Farak  snorted, smoked and swallowed while testing drugs for criminal cases is jaw dropping.

Referring to his own drug use,  Charlie Sheen once said …”I probably took more than anybody could survive,” during  an ABC interview. “I was banging seven-gram rocks. Because that’s how I roll. I have one speed. I have one gear.”  Sheen noted his most recent binge was “radical. … The run I was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger, Richards look like droopy-eyed, armless children.”  But Farak’s  run would make even the most hardcore drug user stand up and take notice as this woman was not just under the influence but over the rainbow and her eclectic pharmacopeia and hepatic fortitude alone is breathtaking  but the kicker is this–she did it all within the walls of the state run crime lab and no one noticed.

Farak’s drug use started  in 2004 when she started sampling from the “primary standards” that chemists use as a reference to compare to the the seized samples brought in by police.  “Primary samples” are of very high quality and the Amherst lab maintained samples of everything from heroin to marijuana.  Farak developed a penchant for Meth and by 2005 had increased her usage to multiple times per day.   By 2009 she had nearly exhausted the labs entire methamphetamine supply.

Farak  told investigators that she smoked crack every day at work.  When police in Chicopee, Mass. seized a kilo of cocaine, Farak utilized that lab facilities to freebase about  100 grams of it and free is a very good price.  When it struck her fancy she also  took methamphetamine, amphetamine, ketamine, ecstasy LSD, Marijuana and MDMA at work and at home. She also  testified in court while drug addled and even hit the crack pipe prior to a 2012 state police accreditation inspection of the lab.  Farak remained undetected amongst those trained to detect.  Throughout her entire binge, no one noticed a decline in her work, with one colleague even calling her “meticulous” and “dedicated to her work.”

Farak  was arrested in 2013 after it was inexplicably discovered that her lab samples that she had been tampering with for nearly eight-years had been tampered with.   Chunks of crack were found at her work station and a crack pipe in her car.

She pleaded guilty in January 2014 to tampering with a handful of drug samples and served an 18-month sentence. She was prosecuted and the Massachusetts attorney general’s office said at the time they did “not believe Farak’s alleged tampering would undermine any cases” but three years later, an investigation by Attorney General Maura Healey reveals otherwise.

Farak’s pursuit to oblivion rivals that of  Permanent Midnight,  Jerry Stahl’s autobiographical account his prodigious drug use as he wrote television shows but the potential consequences of Farak’s diehard addiction and penchant for psychotropics are more than just shabby dialogue on Moonlighting or Alf.  Losses of liberties and freedoms can result from positive drug tests and the consequences can be grave and far reaching. Positive drug tests can tear apart families end careers and trigger suicides.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Maura Healey said the information gathered about Farak “will no doubt have implications for many cases.”  One defense attorney told the Boston Herald that Farak handled about 30,000 cases over the course of her career.

Some defense attorneys maintain that prosecutorial misconduct kept the details of Farak’s drug-induced work secret for almost two years after her problems were discovered.

Cyndi Ray Gonzalez, chief spokeswoman for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, said that the state’s district attorneys, the defense bar and the courts “are going to have to collectively work on determining the universe of cases that could be affected. And they’re going to have to determine how best to notify the people in each case.”

Matthew Segal of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has been fighting Massachusetts prosecutors for almost four years to learn the names of all those affected by Dookhan’s misconduct.  “This is why it’s not just about two chemists, it’s about an entire system that allowed this to happen, and once it did happen didn’t take steps to remedy it.”

The newly released investigation was prompted by a ruling from the state Supreme Judicial Court last April, which said top state law enforcement officials failed to fully investigate how many times Farak tampered with drug evidence after her arrest in 2013. “This is a statewide problem,” said attorney Luke Ryan, who helped bring the scope of Farak’s drug use and evidence tampering to light, and who represents several defendants whose samples purportedly were tested by Farak. “The fact that we’re doing this in 2016 instead of 2013 makes the job so much harder. . . . The chances of people falling through the cracks really increases.”  According to spokesman Jake Wark state’s district attorneys are undertaking research similar to that performed in the wake of the Dookhan scandal

“Our experience with the Hinton Lab crisis has provided us with a framework for identifying and acting on these cases,” Wark said, referring to  ex-chemist Annie Dookhan, who was found to have been falsifying her analysis reports to police and the courts for years and potentially tainting up to 40,000 cases.  Identifying and acting?   How about preventing?

Farak and  Dookhan’s misdeeds were initially dismissed as a minor issue by government lawyers. -These egregious debacles are not just a matter of “bad apples” but a complete organizational systems failure in a culture of deference with no internal controls and an absence of outside accountability.    In both cases the blinkered apathy is  glaringly obvious and some people felt it was easier not to examine or look too deeply into the matter.

 

Here is the Massachusetts attorney general’s report on Sonja Farak:

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 7.31.08 PM

The Proposed Expansion of “physician health programs” (PHPs)and the urgent need for a critical analysis of irrational and illegitimate authority

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 5.35.03 AM

Physician Health Programs  (PHPs) claimed “gold standard” for addiction treatment. “80% success rate” being used to promote “new paradigm” to other populations. 

1. National Physician Health Program Blueprint Study Publications List

2.  Setting the Standard for Recovery: Physicians’ Health Programs

————————————————————————-

PHPs are essentially Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)  for doctors.  The vast majority of people know little or nothing about Physician Health Programs (PHPs).

Physician Health Programs (PHPs) are being called  the “gold-standard” for EAPs.    Claims of unparalleled success are being used to promote PHPs to other populations as a “replicable model of recovery.”

Drs. Robert Dupont and Gregory Skipper are promoting PHPs as “A New Paradigm for Long-Term Recovery”  claiming an 80% success rate in doctors.

An article entitled “What Might Have Saved Philip Seymour Hoffman,” claims PHPs “ought to be considered models for our citizenry” and the “best evidence-based addiction treatment system we have going.”   The author repeats the 80% success rate for doctors and claims Philip Seymour Hoffman might still be alive if he had been treated using the PHP model.

The basis for these claims is a 2009 study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment entitled  Setting the Standard for Recovery: Physicians’ Health Programs and authored by Robert Dupont,  A. Thomas McLellan,  William White, Lisa Merlo and Mark Gold.

This  study is the cornerstone of the “PHP-blueprint.” It is the very  foundation on which everything else is based, a Magnum opus used to lay claim to supremacy that has been endlessly repeated and rehashed in a plethora of self-promotion and treatment community blandishment.

To date there has been no academic analysis of the “PHP-Blueprint.”    There has been no Cochrane type analysis or critical review.    There has been no opposition to its findings or conclusions which are paraded as fact and truth without challenge or question and there is a general lack of concern from those both within and outside the medical profession.


The Expansion of Physician Health Programs (PHPs) to Other Populations

1.  Although these programs claim to help doctors they may actually be harming many and contributing to suicide.

2.  The plan is to greatly expand these programs to other populations and you could be next.

In 2012 Robert Dupont delivered the keynote speech at the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association annual conference and described a “new paradigm” for addiction and substance abuse treatment and proposed expansion of this paradigm to other populations including workplace, healthcare, and schools.

It is therefore critical that the “PHP-blueprint” be examined using critical reasoning and evidence base.   All of this needs to be assessed in terms of legitimacy and intent.

Lack of Evidence-Base and Conflicts of Interest

A  cursory  analysis of the study on which this success rate is based reveals very little evidence base.

The claim of 80% success rate in physicians is based on Setting the Standard for Recovery: Physicians’ Health Programs is unfounded.  The study is a poorly designed using a single data set (a sample of 904 physician patients consecutively admitted to 16 state PHP’s).

It  is non-randomized and non-blinded rendering the evidence for effectiveness of the PHP treatment model over any other treatment model (including no treatment) poor from a scientific perspective.  The study contains multiple flaws in both reasoning (type I and type II errors) and statistical analysis that render its conclusions invalid.

In addition the impact of undeclared but substantial financial conflicts-of-interest (including funding by drug testing and addiction treatment industries) and personal ideological biases (including personal 12-step recovery from addictions) in the authors of this study also needs to be considered.

Moreover the misdiagnosis and over-diagnosis of addiction in physicians in this paradigm  incentivized by lucrative self-referral dollars for expensive 90-day treatment programs is a significant factor.

False Endpoints and High Mortality Rate

The mean age of the 904 physicians was 44.1 years. They report that 24 of 102 physicians were transferred and lost to follow “left care with no apparent referral.”

What happened to them? These are physicians with multiple identifiers (state license, DEA, UPIN, etc) not transient drifters.

More importantly what happened to those 48 who were reported to the Medical Board for noncompliance and had their licenses revoked–that would be the critical time when this population would be at most risk for completing a suicide. That would be when hope was lost and the coerced physician, knowing that the fight was over, would take that step.

The outcomes they used were the last reported status of the PHP participant enrolled in the program.   Measuring success of program completion in doctors compared to the general population is meaningless as the short-term outcomes are quite different in terms of the external consequences imposed.   The consequence of not completing a PHP is the invariably career ending.    So what happened to the 24 of who “left care with no apparent referral,” the 85 who “voluntarily stopped or retired,” and the 48 who “involuntarily stopped or license revoked.”

Whether you leave a PHP voluntarily, involuntarily, or with no apparent referral it is the end game and your career is over.  Comparing this to other populations where the consequences of failing to complete the program are not so final is inappropriate.     Claiming superiority over programs with a 40% success rate is unfounded because for most of those people the consequences are not so final and may mean nothing more than an increase in testing frequency.

The big question is what happened to the 157 physicians who left or stopped?  How many of them killed themselves. With an average age of 44 there were  6 reported suicides 22 deaths, and another 157 no longer doctors.  I would venture to say the number of suicides is a lot higher than they claim.  But using the last recorded PHP status as the final outcome obfuscates this.

Due to the severity of the consequences a 20% failure rate is quite concerning. This is of particular concern because many doctors (if not most) monitored by PHPs are not addicts.

As noted above, PHPs are essentially Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)  for doctors. Most EAPs, however, were developed in the presence of trade unions and other organizations working on behalf of the best interests of the employee. This collaborative effort led to EAPs that were more or less “organizationally just” with procedural fairness and transparency.

Imposed 12-step ideology and use of non-FDA Approved Drug and Alcohol Testing

No such organizations exist for doctors.   Due to the absence of oversight and accountability  PHPs have been able to use non-FDA approved laboratory developed tests of unknown validity on doctors without any opposition.

The distinction between professional and private life as a fundamental value of our society  and the importance of this boundary was also upheld by these groups.

In the PHP paradigm no procedural fairness or transparency exists and the boundary between professional and private life has eroded.

PHPs impose 12-step ideology on all doctors referred to these programs.   State Medical Boards  enforce this in violation of the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment yet there is little recourse for doctors as they are threatened with non-compliance and loss of licensure.

Selling the PHP Paradigm

The use of 12-step  is most likely not ideologically driven but profit driven.

Abstinence based 12-step programs justify the use of frequent drug and alcohol testing with ongoing lifelong assessment and treatment.    As with drug-courts,  PHPs provide a lucrative model to the drug and alcohol testing, assessment and treatment industry.

The plan to expand this to other populations is outlined in the ASAM White Paper.

This concerns all of us.  The first step needs to be a critical appraisal of  Setting the Standard for Recovery: Physicians’ Health Programs,  the foundation of their claims of an 80% success rate and a conflict-of-interest analysis of its authors.  The legitimacy of the study and its claims needs to be questioned.

It does not take a Cochrane review to see that the emperor has no clothes.  This is not difficult. It is straightforward and simple.

As an illegitimate and irrational authority it is necessary that this opinion remain unchallenged. We need to challenge it.

Historical, political, economic and social analysis reveals that the “PHP-blueprint” is a false-construct built on circumnavigation and obfuscation.  An evidence-based scrutiny of the literature would reveal it to be invalid and of little probative value.

But if  nobody speaks up it is inevitable that they will expand the “PHP blueprint”  to other employee assistance programs and schools.

This is not just about doctors.  You too are at risk for coercion, control, conformity and forced adherence to a  lifetime of abstinence and 12-step indoctrination and if you do not speak up now it won’t be a risk but a certainty.

The ASAM plan to exploit the doctor-patient relationship to drug test everyone they can using non-FDA approved tests they introduced: And you and your doctor won’t have a choice in the matter.

Screen Shot 2015-05-30 at 3.41.27 PM


Before the  2012 Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA)  annual conference, former Nixon Drug Czar Dr. Robert Dupont delivered a speech entitled “Drug Testing and the Future of American Drug Policy.”   Dupont describes a “New Paradigm” for substance abuse treatment that enforces “zero tolerance for alcohol and drug use”  enforced by monitoring with frequent random drug and alcohol tests in which positive tests are “met with swift, certain, but not draconian, consequences.” The paradigm is based on the current Physician Health Programs blueprint.  Dupont states:

“…physician health programs , have set the standard for effective use of drug testing. These pioneering state programs provide services to health care professionals with substance use disorders. The programs are run by physicians, some of whom in recovery themselves. PHPs feature relatively brief but highly focused treatment followed by active lifelong participation in the 12-step fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. The key to the success of the PHP system of care management is the enforcement of the standard of zero tolerance for any alcohol or other drug use by intensive long-term random testing for both alcohol and drugs with swift and certain consequences for even a single use of alcohol or any other drugs of abuse. PHPs use drug panels of 20 or more drugs. The PHPs commonly use EtG and EtS tests to detect recent alcohol use. Similar comprehensive programs have been developed for commercial pilots and attorneys. These innovative programs of care management produce unprecedented long-term, outcomes.”

Physician Health Programs (PHPs) use a doctor’s medical license as “leverage” in what they call “contingency management.”  The doctor must comply with any and all demands made under threat of being reported to their medical board for “non-compliance.”  The national organization representing PHPs, the Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP) has convinced the national organization representing state medical boards, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) that “second-guessing” PHP authority “undermines a culture of professionalism.”   As with every other ware the FSPHP has pitched the FSMB they accepted this notion in blind faith and without critical analysis. If they did look a little deeper they would find the “PHPs-blueprint” more resembles a paradigm of “racketeering” then it does “rehabilitation” or “recovery” and the terms they use are euphemisms.  Taking a medical license “hostage” and holding it for “ransom”  while putting coins in your pocket by “extortion” doesn’t fit in with a “culture of professionalism” though.  They are very good at impression management–have to give them that.

Declaring the PHP model the “gold standard” of substance abuse treatment they now want to spread the wealth to others, including kids.    But instead of a medical license it will be your student loan, right to participate in school sports, teaching license, hairdressing license, commercial truck driving license, gun license, and even license to drive they will be after.  If you got it and it is in any way tied to state or federal government benefits or rights they will threaten you with removing it.  And as is being seen in doctors there will not be a damned thing you will be able to do about it.

This is all outlined in the 2013 American Society of Addiction Medicine White Paper on Drug Testing.   If you have not read it yet you need to.   If you read one thing this year make it this as it is under the radar and no one is talking about it.

A Modest Proposal

I implore you to do two things:

1.  Read the ASAM White Paper on Drug Testing in its entirety.  It can be found here and here.

2.  If you like what you see do nothing.  If this is the predominant response then it will surely come to fruition as has every other public policy recommendation the ASAM has pushed.  ( See policy entrepreneurship, bent science,  moral crusades).

3. If you don’t like what you see then stand up!  Make your voice known.  Make your voice known in every venue you can.  Write and call your local and state politicians,  comment in the news media, tweet, Instagram, post to FaceBook, send links to your connections on Linkedin. Do everything you can because we do not have long.  The ASAM is slated to become recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties in 2016 and that will be the beginning of the end.  What is described in the ASAM White Paper will be ushered in and, as we have seen with what has happened to doctors, there will not be a thing you will be able to do about it.

The ASAM is not a medical “specialty” but a “special interest group representing the billion dollar drug and alcohol testing, assessment and treatment industry.   Although they say they exist to help addicts and benefit the public their plans as outlined below suggest they do neither.   Moreover, many of the architects of this future drug-testing dystopia can be found right here on this list.

In order to prevent this we need voices now!  Please take the ASAM White Paper on Drug Testing Challenge.  Read it, form an opinion and state, yell and shout  your opinion everywhere and anywhere you can.


The 2013 American Society of Addiction Medicine White Paper on Drug Testing describes the organizational structure of the “New Paradigm” which includes utilization of the medical profession as a urine collection agency for their drug and alcohol testing. When a doctor-patient relationship exists the testing is rendered “clinical” rather than “forensic.” Thus the consequences of a positive test can be deemed “treatment” rather than punishment. This bypasses the strict chain-of-custody and Medical Review Officer requirements designed to ensure accuracy and minimize false-positives.  Forensic drug testing is tightly regulated because the results a positive test can be grave and far reaching.  Erroneous results are unacceptable.

And then he proposed expansion of this paradigm to other populations including workplace, healthcare, and schools.


Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 6.14.30 PM

Chain-of-Custody refers to the document or paper trail showing the collection, control, transfer, analysis and disposition of laboratory tests.  It is the written documentation of a specimen from the moment of collection to the final destination to the review and reporting of the final results.   The multi-part chain-of-custody form or “custody and control” form is part and parcel of this process. It contains stickers to sign and seal the specimen so that it cannot be tampered with and the form itself is signed by the appropriate parties as the test specimen travels from place to place. Information is added to the form as it travels from person to person.  It has been given the status of a legal document as it has the ability to invalidate a specimen with incomplete information.  Once the sample is analyzed it is reviewed by a Medical Review Officer (MRO) for final review. In the case of a positive test it is the responsibility of the MRO to ascertain an intact  chain-of-custody, determine whether an alternative explanation exists for the positive test such as a prescribed medication, and then and only then report the test as a “true positive.”

The MRO looks for what are called “fatal flaws” and,  should one be present, invalidates the test.  A fatal flaw requires the test be rejected as it were never drawn.  It invalidates it and it cannot be used. screen-shot-2013-12-19-at-12-20-46-pmAny and all drug testing requires strict  chain-of-custody procedures. It documents not only the whereabouts of the specimen at any given time but the management and storage of the specimen. This is important because time and temperature can influence the results of certain tests.  One such test is alcohol.

Specimen integrity is critical in forensic drug testing, but so too is the integrity of the people involved.


Forensic Versus Clinical Drug Testing

According to the ASAM White Paper on Drug Testing, clinical drug-testing “employs the same sound procedures, safeguard, and systems of information management that are used for all other health-related laboratory tests, tests on which life-and-death medical decisions are commonly made.”  In the box below they describe the multiple safeguards in place and requirements demanded of “forensic” drug testing but do not mention the reason these uncompromising and multiple specifications exist is to protect the donor from a false accusation of drug or alcohol use.  They proceed to define “clinical drug testing” as “part of a patient examination performed for the purposes of diagnosis, treatment, and the promotion of long term recovery” noting that clinical testing “must meet the established standards of medical practice and benefit the therapeutic relationship, rather than meeting the formal legal requirements of forensic testing.”  The authors then state that the “majority of drug testing done today” includes both forensic and clinical elements using individuals on parole and probation as examples.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 12.32.11 AM

From the ASAM White Paper on Drug Testing

The logical fallacy here is striking.  It is comparing apples and oranges.  After detailing the specific quality assurance safeguards designed to prevent the donor of a drug or alcohol test from being falsely accused of illicit use, the authors give a general  definition and purpose of  “clinical” testing  then state that when testing for drugs the systems in place are up to snuff as it is already being used to make  life-and-death medical decisions.  The take-home message is that “forensic” testing is unnecessary hyperbole designed for legal challenges. The clinical lab  systems in place are used for critically  important testing so it can be used for drug-testing.   After all, parolees and probationers don’t require it.

Forensic guidelines were developed in collaboration with occupational and environmental medicine specialists, clinical and forensic toxicologists, pathologists and others and the recommended  requirements agreed upon by this consortium exists solely to  assure validity and accuracy in the testing process.  These requirements exist to protect the donor and If the “clinical” testing context fit the bill then “forensic” testing would not have evolved.

Labs ordered clinically in the course of patient care are interpreted within the context of multiple other pieces of data.  Lab errors occur all the time and are interpreted in that context. Oftentimes a lab will not fit with the clinical picture and, when that happens, a repeat lab is ordered for verification.  Specimens get collected in the wrong tube and specimens get lost but in the clinical setting they simply get reordered and there are no consequences to patient care.   In contrast drug testing is an all-or-none one-shot test and the results have consequences. It is for that reason they must be valid.  Chain-of-custody and MRO review are critical and that is why most drug-testing programs follow the forensic protocol.  And the example of non-forensic drug-testing  parolees and probationers is misleading.   Any Employee Assistance Program that has a union or some other group looking out for their best interests uses strict “forensic” guidelines.   Parolees and probationers have no power  and have no choice.  Besides, the  National Association of Drug Court Professionals uses the Laboratory Developed Tests these same people introduced to test  individuals on probation or parole in the criminal justice system just as they do in the PHPs.

The  ASAM White Paper:

 “Encourages wider and “smarter” use of drug testing within the practice of medicine and, beyond that, broadly within American society. Smarter drug testing means increased use of random testing* rather than the more common scheduled testing,* and it means testing not only urine but also other matrices such as blood, oral fluid (saliva), hair, nails, sweatand breath when those matrices match the intended assessment process. In addition, smarter testing means testing based upon clinical indication for a broad and rotating panel of drugs”

As a physician-patient relationship renders drug testing “clinical” rather than “forensic” the consequences become “treatment” rather than “discipline.”  And that is the real reason behind all of this.    A positive “forensic” test in most employee random drug screening programs today will result in an “assessment” for substance abuse.  Most EAPs allow a choice in where that assessment takes place.  The model this system is based on, Physician Health Programs. does not allow choice as evaluations are mandated to “PHP-approved” assessment centers; a rigged game.

A positive “clinical” test will result in the same thing under the ASAM White Paper proposal.  But the assessment will be at an ASAM facility and if a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is confirmed it will result in mandated abstinence of all substances (including alcohol) and lifelong spirituality involving 12-step recovery   And by using the healthcare system as a loophole and calling this testing “clinical” rather than “forensic” the ASAM will have successfully introduced widespread testing of a variety of Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs) of unknown validity while removing  the safeguards provided by forensic testing including chain-of-custody and MRO review.

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 1.06.55 PM

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 1.04.35 PM17855_1257443328661_5061955_n