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Editorials


'Testing Positive For Absurdity'
Summer 2009


Jeremy Mayfield was granted a court-ordered injunction that potentially allows him to return to the track, despite having tested positive for methamphetamine during a random drug test in early-May. It is shocking and appalling that a driver who tested positive for an illegal substance is allowed to return to the track without having produced any scientific expert on whether a prescription drug he had been taking for attention deficit disorder could have caused the positive test result. Ultimately, it was NASCAR's incredibly flawed drug policy that was put on trial -- and the policy did not hold water.

The judge found that NASCAR's policy is open for interpretation and isn't defensible. I was amazed at the comment by Aegis Sciences Corp. (run by Dr. Dave Black), which NASCAR contracted for its drug testing program. "We reserve the right to consider any drug discovered to be a prohibitive substance," Dr. Black said. "That's because of the extreme safety concern for the sport."

That is complete nonsense and might be the dumbest comment I have ever heard from a drug testing professional (and, by the way, I covered that industry for almost 3 years). I've attended drug testing industry association conferences and have listened to attorneys, drug-free workplace advocates, and lab directors discuss the need for a clear and available written policy to specify what drugs will be considered violations. That begs the question on the qualifications of Aegis Sciences Corp. As a corporate member of the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association, I'm astounded that Aegis has intentionally administered such a vague and troublesome policy under the guise of an "extreme safety concern," according to its lab director.

Let me ask you, is the "extreme safety concern" any different from a school bus driver transporting a bus full of kids? Yet before the school bus driver is drug tested, he is provided with a list of banned substances as a condition of employment.

How about an airline pilot? It can be argued that the "extreme safety concern" for an airline pilot is greater than the "extreme safety concern" of a stock car driver in a controlled environment. The difference is that the Federal Aviation Administration provides its workers with a clear list of banned substances.

There are protocols involved in drug testing, but the question is whether they were followed. I'm sure you've heard a lot about the "A" and "B" samples, which is commonly known in the testing industry as a 'split sample.' Did Mayfield sign off on the sample when it was collected? Was it sealed in his presence? Was there an approval to test the 'B' sample? Yes, there is a positive test result for methamphetamine. That is apparently undisputable and should have been enough to keep Mayfield off the track forever. But it wasn't enough in a court of law. If the policy isn't defensible, then it's not even worth the paper it's printed on.

Dr. Black's statement was completely mindless and inconsistent with every policy that has been upheld in court over the last 20 years -- from professional sports leagues to the Department of Transportation. The problems associated with the Mayfield case go beyond NASCAR and rest squarely with Aegis Sciences Corp. The company scored a public relations coup in May when it announced that former Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-TN) would be joining Aegis as an advisor. But the positive public relations of a former Senator joining the fold brought a cold reality when its testing procedures and practices failed the legal litmus test.

I have no doubt that NASCAR had the best of intentions with its policy. The problem is the lab they chose (Aegis) and its director apparently failed to grasp the basic premise of a drug testing policy. That puts the safety of every driver at risk by allowing a driver who tested positive for methamphetamine back on the track. And for any driver, crew chief, or car owner (no matter how many championships they have) to come out and defend a scientific policy that is intentionally rooted in its vagueness and administered by Dr. Black shows their own ignorance and lack of understanding on the topic.



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