News 4 Investigates: The Troubled Test -

News 4 Investigates: The Troubled Test

Dr. Gregory Skipper carries a lot of titles.

He is on the staff at the University of Alabama, runs the physician health program for the state of Alabama and acts as an advisor for the Federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

Suffice to say he is a recognized authority in the field of addiction medicine. It was this specialty which led him to work with a European scientist to develope the Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG) test for use in alcohol abuse monitoring programs.

But in a lengthy interview with News 4 Investigates -- his first ever for broadcast media, and only his second interview about EtG with any journalist -- Dr. Skipper explained why he is now troubled at how American courts and professional licensing boards are using his test.

In its simplest form, his concerns surround the test's cut-off level -- or what constitutes a "pass" or "fail" for the person taking the test. A failing mark -- above the cut-off level -- indicates the presence of alcohol in the testing subject's system.

There is no argument in the scientific community that EtG can detect the presence of alcohol in a person's system. But how did that person comsume the alcohol?

People encounter alcohol in many more forms than a rum and Coke or a beer. Alcohol is present is household items, personal care products, hand sanitizer... the list goes on and on.

And here is where things get complicated.

Dr. Skipper is adamant that courts and licensing boards, such as those which oversee nurses, doctors and lawyers who are known to have or suspected of having a substance abuse problem, are setting cut-off levels too low.

So low, in fact, that indicential exposure to alcohol in the environment is causing innocent people to test positive.

Since Dr. Skipper is the expert, we wanted to give him more time to talk.

Fortunately, the DB allows us to do that. Here is more of his interview with News 4 Investigates producer Steve Perron. This interview was in October 2007 at Dr. Skipper's office in Montgomery, Ala.

Click the links below to watch specific portions of Dr. Skipper's interview.

Dr. Skipper on how he first heard of EtG and developed a test for substance abuse programs.

Dr. Skipper on the problem of determining the cut-off level.

Dr. Skipper describes what else can produce EtG besides drinking alcohol.

Dr. Skipper on the tension between the medical profession, legal system, and testing labs.

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