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Do probation departments have to inform you that they will be including ETG testing in the test panel?

Barnstable, MA |

I am on probation with random drug & alcohol screening. My color (the method of randomization) hasn't been called yet, so I haven't gone for my first screening yet. I was not informed that this would be part of the test panel. I have been doing some research and have found that I could test positive for incidental alcohol contact- hand sanitizer, cold medicine, gasoline, etc. I'm concerned that if this is sprung on me I won't pass. Would my probation officer have to inform me of the test, as well as advise me to stay away from incidental exposure or could this test be sprung on me? What is my recourse if I test positive from incidental exposure?

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Attorney answers 2


You can be tested for alcohol if your probation contract says you cannot consume alcohol. Hand sanitizer and cold medication can give false positives. So can a few other things. Your probation officer should be able to give you an idea what substances to stay away from. To the best of my knowledge, the only way gasoline could cause a problem with the tests is if you drink it. I will assume you are not doing that.

There are several methods of testing used by probation. They have what are referred to as "instant cups". Those tests give an immediate answer and the ones used by the Massachusetts probation department are not terribly reliable. If you test positive with one of those cups, and you believe it is a false positive, ask for another kind test. You may have to pay for it. The very best test you can ask for is a GCMS test. There are issues with those, but they are better than the cup system.

If probation will not afford you a different testing method, go to a hospital and get a blood test. Make sure they do it in such a way that it will not affect the alcohol reading. Tell them why you need the test and do not let them use an alcohol swab.

The no alcohol no drugs condition of your probation allows the probation department to test as they and their budget decide. You got your notice when you were informed of the condition. You already know to protect yourself from incidental exposure. So educate yourself on what will cause a false positive and protect yourself.

If you do test positive, and your probation officer files a violation notice, you will need an attorney for the hearing. If you cannot afford one, the court will appoint one. It is not a good idea to represent yourself in such a hearing.


EtG is Ethyl Glucuronide. It is a urine test. It only detects recent alcohol consumption. Ordinarily, your body eliminates one drink per hour, so in order to be detected, you must have had a drink within one or two hours of testing, or 2-3 drinks within 4-6 hours, give or take, and so on. It is not a "rapid" or "dip stick" test, it is always sent out to a lab. If a positive results from the initial test, by most lab protocols, it is repeated with another reagent. So there are very careful precautions against false positives already built into the system.
To avoid false positives from known agents, non-latex medical gloves should be used.
If you are male, you should swab the tip of your penis with a non-alcohol wipe, let it dry, and not touch the tip until the specimen is completed. If you are female, swab the appropriate area thoroughly.
This test has a widely reported false positive rate, which is disputed by most labs, but much of the poor results are caused by poor specimen collection procedures (i.e., unsanitary bathrooms at courthouses). So learn and be wise. Most probation officers will give you one second chance if you have a single false positive. But don't chance it. Stay off the hooch and be careful with your testing. Have gloves and non-alcohol wipes handy.

Attorney Mike Tremblay 508-485-4500