In my last blog entry, I recommended that the NFL modify its approach to fixed penalties, and adopt a system that recognizes that not all conduct merits the same penalty. While there is a certain simplicity in a “one penalty for everything” approach to sanctions, such an approach ignores fundamental principles of fairness and proportionality that the players deserve and respect. A similar “one approach for everything” approach can be seen in the manner in which the NFL addresses dilute urine samples, and related issues surrounding the collection of urine samples.
Urine samples can be dilute for a number of reasons, including both (1) drinking large quantities of water in close proximity to the drug test (usually when the collection is shortly after a game or workout), and (2) using a diuretic to lose weight. Dilute urine samples are problematic in drug testing because it can be much more difficult to detect a prohibited substance in a dilute urine sample.
Under the NFL’s Policy And Program For Substances Of Abuse, a “dilute sample” is defined as “a urine specimen which has a specific gravity value less than 1.003 and a creatinine concentration of less than 20 mg/dL.” Appendix A-1 to that Policy provides procedures for the handling of a dilute sample, that include the following:
(1) Any player who provides a dilute specimen during Pre-Employment Testing or Pre-Season Testing shall enter Stage One of the Intervention Program;
(2) a dilute specimen will be tested to the “limits of detection” to determine if there is a presence of any substance banned by the Program or by an individual player’s treatment plan (the presence of a prohibited substance in a dilute specimen is called an “LOD Positive,” and the absence of any prohibited substances is called an “LOD Negative”);
(3) Players who provide a dilute urine specimen that is an LOD Positive shall enter Stage One of the Intervention Program by Positive Test;
(4) Players who provide a dilute urine specimen that is an LOD Negative shall enter Stage One of the Intervention Program by Behavior;
(5) A player who is in either Stage Two or Stage Three of the Intervention Program and provides a dilute urine specimen that is an LOD Positive shall be deemed to have had a Positive Test; and
(6) Each time a player enters the Intervention Program, he will be warned the first time he provides a dilute specimen that is LOD Negative after being advanced to Stage Two; however, after this one warning, a player in Stage Two or Stage Three who provides another dilute specimen that is LOD Negative shall be deemed to have produced a Positive Specimen.
Therefore, a player who provides a dilute urine sample during drug testing is potentially subject to severe consequences, even if the player did nothing wrong. Under certain circumstances, the NFL will deem a dilute sample to be a positive test even where there is no indication that the player used a prohibited substance. This is completely unnecessary, and punishes players for no reason at all. There is a much better and more fair way to handle dilute urine samples: the player who provides a dilute urine sample should simply be required to remain under supervision until he provides a second sample that is not dilute.
A sample collector can determine if a urine sample is too dilute at the time of collection by measuring specific gravity. If the specific gravity of the urine sample is below 1.003, the collector should notify the player that his urine sample is too dilute and that he needs to provide another sample. The collector should at that time also notify the player that (1) the player is required to remain under constant supervision until a suitable sample is collected; (2) the player should not hydrate excessively, as that will delay the production of a suitable sample; and (3) the player will remain under supervision until he provides a urine sample with a specific gravity of 1.003 or greater.
While the possibility that a player may have to remain in doping control for an extended period of time until he provides a suitable sample may seem burdensome to the players, the burden is far less than having a dilute sample result in placement in an intervention stage under the Policy And Program For Substances Of Abuse, or worse, having a dilute sample declared a positive test. There is no reason for players to be penalized for providing a dilute sample, when the problem can be remedied by simply collecting another sample or samples.
In my next proposal, I will address inconsistencies in the classification of certain substances that are created by the fact that the NFL has separate drug policies for steroids / performance enhancers and for substances of abuse.