Lab manager sentenced for forging drug tests, causing some to lose custody of children

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OZARK, AL  An Alabama woman has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for falsifying results for drug and alcohol testing. Some forged tests caused people to lose custody of their children. 

37-year-old Brandy Murrah of Ozark, Alabama managed Murrah’s A&J Lab Collections.  The lab’s specialty is administering and collecting urine and blood samples for drug and alcohol testing. 

An investigation determined Murrah had been denied additional credit at the main testing lab she sent results to, so instead of paying her debt with the agency, she decided to “pencil-whip” the results, giving a random batch of positive and negative tests results as she processed thousands of tests.

She never sent them to an official lab or a Medical Review Officer (MRO) for actual evaluation.  She and her business profited from taking in initial fees for the tests but never incurring the additional expense of getting the samples processed.

The lab has been integral to the state’s drug and alcohol programs.

These programs extend across demographic ranges and are involved in determining prison time, parole, or probation for offenders; awards for child custody and child support payments; and routine pre-employment, random, and reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing for employers. 

Another severely affected area was the strict criteria enforced by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) governing commercial truck drivers, train industry workers, and pilots.

Murrah pleaded guilty to a felony charge of perjury, and 16 misdemeanor counts of forgery.  She was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, although the statutes under which she was charged allowed for a life sentence. 

She admitted to falsifying drug tests, causing multiple parents to lose custody of their kids.  With thousands of people affected by her forgeries and incorrect labels of “positive” or “negative” results on drug tests, it remains unknown how many people lost jobs, careers, children, money, and more by her actions.

Grace Locke, a woman whose 3-month-old baby was taken away from her for three weeks in 2017 after Murrah’s lab falsely indicated she had tested positive for methamphetamine, told The Dothan Eagle:

 “I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest because I knew I was doing right with this one.  I don’t understand why anybody would ever do that to any family, any children, for no reason.”

Jennifer Severs, another victim of the false test results, told the court how it took her months to get her kids back after the lab claimed she used drugs.

In court, Jennifer Severs gave a victim impact statement:

“This is a daily battle for me on who I can trust.  This is a daily battle for my children.”

Murrah expressed remorse during her sentencing hearing:

“I know I did wrong.  I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life… I’m sorry for anyone I ever hurt. I really did not do this intentionally to ever hurt anyone.” 

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CT Dept. of Public Health finds flaw in virus testing, led to at least false positive tests. No big deal?

July 23, 2020

HARTFORD, CT– On Monday, July 20th, the Department of Public Health announced that a “flaw” in a coronavirus testing system has led to a least 90 false positive COVID-19 tests.

According to the Department of Public Health (DPH), in a one-month period, specifically from June 15th to July 17th, 144 people were given positive results after their specimens were ran through a system manufactured by Thermo Fisher Scientific of Waltham, Massachusetts.

According to the Hartford Courant, the acting DPH commissioner, Dr. Diedre Gifford said that nearly all of the affected tests were taken from nursing homes or assisted living facilities. All patients who were given false positives have been notified of the error by the DPH.

Dr. Gifford said in a statement:

“This error is going to apply to a minority of tests in the state. Anybody who’s received a positive test, they should absolutely assume that the positive result is correct until such a time they are informed by their provider of a change.”

Dr. Gifford went on to say that only a small percentage of the state’s tests would have ran through the Thermo Fisher system, which the state began using on June 15th. Due to those two facts, Dr. Gifford said that it is important for patients who have tested positive for coronavirus to still assume that they do in fact have the virus.

According to reports, the Thermo Fisher system’s error was initially discovered when public health lab director, Dr. Jafar Razeq and his team were working to validate pool testing. Pool testing is the process of testing a large number of specimens at one time and in order to validate that process, the team had to use specimens that were already known to be positive.

However, this validation process requires the team to determine the strength or weakness of the positive specimens, and unfortunately that information is not readily available from the Thermo Fisher system. 

In order to get the information Razeq and his team needed, they had to go into the raw data and pull from there, that is when they discovered that some of the test results were not actually positive.

Razeq said in a statement:

“When we started looking at the background information on these specimens, we realized that these specimens should have not been reported as positives. That was alarming.”

Shortly after their discovery, the team pulled all of the specimens that the Thermo Fisher system had labeled as “positive” because they were concerned about the possibility of more false positives. Between June 15th and July 17th, more than 2,000 samples had been run through the system and of those, 161 specimens corresponding to 144 patients, came back positive.

Razeq and his team then retested all of the positive samples and found that out of them, only 54 patients marked as “positive” had actually had an identifiable case of coronavirus.

He said in a statement:

“If it had not been for us looking into the pool testing to use some of these previously known positive samples, there were no indications that any of these reported positive results would have been questioned. There was nothing for us to question the results that we had, if it was not for the pool testing.”

According to officials, after this alarming discovery, DPH notified both Thermo Fisher and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). On the same day the DPH sent its notification, the FDA modified the instructions for the Thermo Fisher system and under the new instructions, the system should be more accurate. 

Dr. Gifford said in a media release:

“Accurate and timely testing for the novel coronavirus is one of the pillars supporting effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the quick action of our team at the state lab, adjustments have already been made to ensure the accuracy of future test results from this platform.”

According to the Connecticut COVID-19 Data Tracker, as of this writing, there have been 48,223 positive cases with 672,386 tests reported. There have been 4,406 deaths.

 

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