There are few places in the world that take drug-screenings more seriously than the infamous Alberta Oil Sands. As the third largest oil reserve on the planet, the Oil Sands produces 2.5 million barrels of bitumen per day. Four hours north of Edmonton, Fort McMurray is a remote oil outpost only accessible by plane or a two lane-highway known by locals as the Highway of Death. At any time, 133,053 people are employed in the isolated oil town, most of whom are young men making more money than they have time to spend it. Just like the Yukon towns of the Gold Rush Era, Fort McMurray has become as renowned for its party scene and illicit underbelly as it has for its “Black Gold.”
Mitch Wagstaff, whose name we have changed to conceal his identity, worked at the Oil Sands off and on for over three years and was forced to take one of these drug tests like nearly all of his fellow workers. Oil Sands companies bank on attracting workers with a singular motive; making fast money.
“You start a shift at 4 am and work for 11 hours. Sometimes it’s 14 hours,” says Wagstaff. When Wagstaff worked at the Oil Sands, he would work 21 days on, three days off. “I basically didn’t see any weekends.”
Fort McMurray has a massive “shadow population.” At a population of 40,000 workers in the camps for the 100 Oil Sands projects, the temporary population rivals Fort Mac’s 73,000 permanent residents.
Many workers who’ve stuck it out at lower paying construction jobs suddenly start making more money than they know what to do with. The average household income in Fort McMurray is the highest in Canada at $186,782. The cocktail of ample spending money, grueling work conditions, and crippling loneliness create the perfect storm for a culture of escapism.
“You can understand why the job is physically difficult, but you can’t understand the mental aspect,” Wagstaff recalls.
Like Wagstaff, most workers are transplants from somewhere far away, isolated from friends and family. While there are no bars in the work camps or drugs permitted on site, consecutive days-off often turn into benders in Fort Mac’s downtown core at Showgirls Exotic Nightclub, Boomtown Casino or at one of the many bars where servers claim to make “$700 on a good night”. According to statistics, 16.82 per 1,000 people in Fort McMurray use drugs. The question is, how do they pass drug tests?
Due to the dangerous nature of Oil Sands work, one that involves high-powered drills and extensive safety equipment, drug use on is considered a fireable offense. Even past use is a major barrier to getting hired in resource extraction. This is a major issue for recreational or medical marijuana users. Marijuana can be traced in urine up to a month after use. The irony is that most hard drugs, like opioids or amphetamines, dissipate in saliva and urine at a significantly faster rate.
Most drug tests are multi-faceted. They start with swabs from the inside of the mouth, and across the brow, and then they take a urine sample. Wagstaff passed his drug test no problem, but not all the Oil Sand workers were as well behaved during their time off.
“There’s a couple of guys I was up with who tried the synthetic urine bag,” says Wagstaff. Unfortunately for them, a synthetic urine bag can be a little risky. “The urine won’t stay at the right temperature. It has to be at the right degree. If it’s not, they know they’re faking it.”
For those who don’t want to risk synthetic urine, the best option is detox drinks. Using detox drinks to pass a drug test will make your urine clean in 60 minutes. While head shops often stock diluents, for men over 200 pounds, Clear Choice detox drinks are one of the few things that actually work.
According to Wagstaff, it’s likely that whoever is conducting a drug test is going to take more than one type of sample and they are bound to conduct it on short notice. Acquiring the proper tools in preparation is an asset for any casual or daily weed smoker. No worker should have to choose between their future and their leisure.