Drug offenders will go to extreme lengths to hide their addiction, even drinking a potentially lethal concoction of baking soda and bleach to fabricate a drug test.
The concept of adulterating a drug test is hardly new, but the latest trend for Mitchell drug offenders on probation involves drinking a mixture of bleach, baking soda and water. Those who try what's been called a "baking soda bomb" supposedly believe it will result in a clean or negative urine analysis test.
Mitchell-area law enforcement, treatment providers and medical professionals are well-tuned into this increasingly popular fad, but it's proving hard to track.
Though, what's clear is drug arrests in South Dakota continue to increase. According to the South Dakota Attorney General's annual law enforcement report, drug arrests increased 12.5 percent from 2015 to 2016 with 7,671 reported cases.
That leads to more people on probation and more instances in which offenders may try to falsify their urinalysis tests.
"If someone complains about feeling very ill or suddenly has an upset stomach during their urine analysis test, that usually is a sign," said Chief Court Services Officer for the First Judicial Circuit Ron Freeman.
According to Freeman, three probationers admitted to using baking soda to try and falsify a test, but there is no way to know for certain how many people have tried to use the method.
Those who try a "baking soda bomb" believe the masking agent in baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, will cover up the use of methamphetamine in a urine sample.
"This shows the strength of the addiction," said Janae Oetken, clinical supervisor at Stepping Stones in Mitchell. "If someone is going to go to this kind of extreme, it's a pretty strong desire to want to continue using."
Reported incidents of probationers using baking soda to render a test are "minimal," according to local officials. Drug Court Services Officer Tim Moon said random urine test can analyzed through pH levels to see if a substance, such as baking soda, is being used.
A deadly combination
Drinking a bottle of baking soda, bleach and water trying to falsify a drug test can come with medical consequences, and there is no evidence it works.
"If someone is drinking bleach and baking soda - it could kill them," said Darla Edinger, a doctor at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell who works at the hospital's urine drug and screen program.
Urine analysis tests are used to look for all common street drugs, including methamphetamine, Edinger said.
"If someone is taking baking soda or bleach, it is not going to stop the drugs from being detected if sent to a lab," Edinger said.
Edinger explained drinking baking soda or bleach will not mask drugs already absorbed in the body's system. At best, the mixture may hide drugs recently consumed within a few hours. Additionally, a person who consumes a combination of baking soda or bleach will typically report stomach aches and diarrhea.
The physical after-effect symptoms is one clear indicator to probation and court service officers a person is using baking soda.
Tracking the tests
The increase use of methamphetamine in South Dakota and in Mitchell continues to be an issue law enforcement and court services must manage. When Senate Bill 70 passed in 2013, more non-violent drug offenders were sentenced to presumptive probation rather than prison. As part of standard probation, Drug and DUI Court, and HOPE probation, participants will frequently be asked to take urine analysis tests to comply with court orders to stay sober.
Court services in the First Judicial Circuit currently supervises 868 adult and juvenile probationers, 146 adult Drug and DUI Court probationers and juvenile intensive probationers, and 111 adult probationers enrolled in the Offender Link Call in System, according to Freeman.
This means there are a lot of people submitting to urinalysis tests on a weekly basis.
Stepping Stones performs approximately 35 to 50 tests a week, Davison County Jail performs between 50 to 75 tests a week, and court services for the First Judicial Court does not track weekly tests but ordered 8,950 drug kits last year.
There are other options for drug testing including a sweat patch or an ankle bracelet, but a urine analysis test is "simply put: cost effective," Oetken said.
Failure to pass a urine analysis can result in a person losing bond, be a condition for a probation violation or a jail sanction for 48 hours.
"What is the negative reinforcement for people that are using drugs? Legally not much. They get a fine, they get a record," Oetken said. "I am not saying prison is the answer. But for some of these people they just do not want to change."
Mitchell Police Sgt. Joel Reinesch said he became aware of "baking soda bombs" earlier this year through discussions with probation officers, but he said the police department does not administer many urine analysis tests to offenders.
"Right now, meth is king," Reinesch said. "So many things evolve in the drug world that we have to be tuned in to."
Baking soda and or bleach appears to be popular in Mitchell now, officials said, but local experts are continuing to learn new methods drug offenders will attempt to hide their addiction.
But according to Oetken, people will try and get away with fabricating a drug test but eventually it will catch up to them.
"You almost have to be on the same line of criminal thinking with them," Oetken said. "There is always going to be something different. It happens to be baking soda right now."