'Baking Soda Bombs' Emerge As Latest Drug Test Trend In South Dakota

By Paul Fuhr 10/20/17

The unproven, dangerous concoction is being used in South Dakota, where one officer says "meth is king."

a box of Arm And Hammer baking soda

People struggling with addiction routinely go to elaborate lengths to “beat” mandatory drug tests, whether it’s guzzling water the night before, drinking special cleansing teas, or trying to smuggle in someone else’s clean urine.

According to the Daily Republic, “baking soda bombs” have emerged in Mitchell, South Dakota where people swallow a potentially lethal combination of water, bleach and baking soda to pass mandatory drug tests. While the purpose of the “bomb” is to give meth users a clean urine test, medical experts and law enforcement officials argue that the method is more dangerous than it is effective. 

Drug use in the Mount Rushmore State spiked 12.5% between 2015 and 2016, the article said. Last year alone, 7,671 drug cases were reported by the South Dakota Attorney General’s office. Officials believe that number will continue to climb, too.

As such, the number of people on probation facing drug tests that they may not be able to pass will rise as well. And that’s where the popularity of the “baking soda bomb” may grow, despite being a dangerous solution. The idea behind the method is that baking soda’s main agent, sodium bicarbonate (also used to help reduce stomach acid), will disguise the presence of methamphetamine in urine.

“This shows the strength of the addiction,” said Janae Oetken, clinical supervisor at Stepping Stones rehab center. “If someone is going to go to this kind of extreme, it's a pretty strong desire to want to continue using.”

Drinking bleach and baking soda is very dangerous and has not been proven to actually clean the system of drugs. Anyone who’s digested the “baking soda bomb” will show some pretty telltale signs that probation and court officers may notice: stomach pain, cramps, and diarrhea. 

As methamphetamine use continues to rise throughout South Dakota, so too does the need for urinalysis tests. Last year, 8,950 drug kits were ordered by the state's First Judicial Court. While the Daily Republic story notes that alternatives like sweat patches and ankle bracelets exist, urinalysis kits remain the most cost-effective.

Truth be told, Mitchell Police don’t even regularly administer urinalysis tests to drug offenders. Mitchell Police Sgt. Joel Reinesch told the Daily Republic that he’s unsurprised by the “baking soda bomb” method.

“Right now, meth is king,” Reinesch admitted. “So many things evolve in the drug world that we have to be tuned in to.” And while authorities believe the mixture of baking soda and bleach is currently all the rage, there’s no telling what tomorrow’s next “solution” will be.

"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."

One thing’s for sure: whatever someone dreams up next to outsmart a drug test, it probably won’t pass a test about whether it’s worth the effort. 

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at paulfuhr.com. You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.