From Michigan, direct to you: drug-free urine
March 27, 1987
The job of a U.S. postal carrier grows more perilous every day. A bottle of urine arrived in Wednesday's mail. The package was open; fortunately, the bottle was not.
I don't know whose urine it was, but I know whose it is now.
Mine. I paid for it—-more precisely, the newspaper paid for it. And with all due modesty, I think this little gem belongs in the Expense Account Hall of Fame: "Two ounces of urine—$19.95."
People all over the country are buying other people's urine. The reason is to decoy drug tests, implemented by many companies to identify employees who have recently used marijuana, cocaine or other substances.
As the urinalysis craze grew, it was only a matter of time before somebody cashed in. In recent months several companies have sprung up offering "clean" urine to anyone who wants to pay for it.
The bottle that I ordered came in a brown envelope from a Michigan firm called Insurine Labs, a pioneer in this exciting new field. The urine-by-mail business is going so swimmingly that Insurine's founders say they've expanded the operation.
"It's a growth industry," says business manager Al Robinson. "We started it. We're No. 1. We send out a good product."
Since Consumer Reports has yet to test mail-order urine, and since I wasn't about to attempt any comparisons myself, I had to take Al's word on the quality issue.
"We've got distributors in 33 states," he went on. "We're franchising in Canada. We're in London."
I asked him where the stuff comes from. More to the point, who it comes from. "We've got two labs in California that hire donors," Al said. He described the donors as normal, healthy persons trying to make a little extra money. He said they get $5 a shot, but they don't get paid until the urine sample tests clean.
Each bottle arrives with a piece of paper stating that the urine contains no detectable amounts of amphetamines, barbiturates, methadone, opiates, metabolized cocaine, benzodiazepine or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
And at the bottom of the chart, highlighted (fittingly) in yellow magic marker, is this disclaimer: "THIS PRODUCT IS SOLD AS ADVERTISED AS A SPECIMEN ONLY. INSURINE LABS DOES NOT IMPLY OR SUGGEST THAT IT BE USED IN ANY UNLAWFUL OR IMPROPER MANNER."
I asked Al Robinson what his product might be used for, other than rigging a drug test. "People use it for what they want to use it for," he said. "They can wash their small car with it, you know what I mean?" A second warning on the Insurine urine chart says: "NOT TO BE TAKEN INTERNALLY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHAT SO EVER [sic]."
So Al isn't taking any chances.
At first, he said, he and Insurine founder Meryl Podden considered the urine-selling scheme "a novelty." Originally they sold the samples for $49.95 "and there was no sales resistance at all. None."
The price came down with the competition. After Insurine was mentioned in U.S. News and World Report, orders shot through the roof. Al says the company is doing so well that he and Meryl decided to franchise, so they'd no longer have to do the shipping.
I said this sounded like the ideal set-up, not having to handle the stuff yourself.
Al said there have been no problems, no complaints from unsuspecting postmen. He said the packages must be sturdy to withstand the frigid Michigan winters. Each sample is sent in a clear plastic bottle with a screw top.
"They don't leak," Al added. "And there's no law against it. Nowhere in the country."
Customers who don't intend to use the sample for a drug test might have trouble deciding what else to do with it. As a gift idea it leaves something to be desired, though the bottle itself is attractive enough. A mischievous sort might be tempted to leave it on the cologne counter in a big department store, but of course this would be wrong.