Synthetic urine: Local family and lawmaker fighting to make it illegal

"With this synthetic stuff, we're enabling people with drug problems to not get the help they need."

ST. CLAIR, Mo. – Barbara Peterson’s home is filled with photos of the people she loves.

“Family is everything to me,” Barbara said. “It's a way of saying, ‘this was our story.’”

Two years ago, their family story changed.

“Every parent loves their son completely, but no parent loves their son like parent who's lost that son,” Mike Peterson said.

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It was March 2016. Mike and Barbara found their son Benjamin unconscious on the floor of their St. Clair home.

“He died twice. The first time was on March 13 and the second time was three and a half months later when we got the death certificate and we found out what really killed him.”

It was a heroin overdose. The Petersons said they had no idea their son had been using the drug.

“We feel like we failed so horribly bad,” Mike said.

The Petersons said Ben used drugs as a teen. But, they thought at 26, he was clean. Learning Ben died from an overdose was more than they could bear.

“This ordeal has devastated, decimated my family. It has ripped us apart at the seams,” Mike said.

But, the Petersons vowed to channel their grief into action. In the summer of 2017, they learned about a product that can fool a drug test, synthetic urine. It has been around, in various forms, for decades.

“With this synthetic stuff, we're enabling people with drug problems to not get the help they need,” Barbara said.

The products are sold at liquor stores, smoke shops and convenient stores all over the St. Louis area.

5 On Your Side went on a mission to find it. We found synthetic urine at a convenience store in St. Clair, just a few miles from the Peterson’s home.

The next place we found synthetic urine was a liquor and smoke shop in Washington, Missouri. The product was on display in a glass case. The employee sold it to us and it cost $20. When we opened the package, we found a small bottle containing the yellow liquid and two hand warmers.

Synthetic urine is just as easy to find online. There are products called Monkey Whiz, the Whizzanator and U-Pass. We tried to track down the makers of U-Pass, hoping to get their take on the controversial product.

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5 On Your Side investigative producer Erin Richey found a website and a company name, Safeguard Laboratories. However, an extensive search for that company lead nowhere.

"It sounds a lot like a company that doesn't want to be found,” Richey said. “Otherwise, they would be trying to build up their reputation as a trustworthy company or as one you can reach out to with concerns. The consumers really have no idea who they're working with or what they're getting when they make a purchase like this."

Synthetic urine is legal in Missouri, so the store owner and online vendors are not doing anything wrong.

“In Franklin County alone, there's about 300 places where you can buy the products,” said Missouri State Representative Nate Tate.

At the Petersons’ request, Tate looked into synthetic urine. Last month, he introduced a bill to make it illegal to market, sell or transport synthetic urine with the intent to mask drug use.

“You think about jobs out there that require you to work with someone, maybe it's machinery, maybe it's a truck driver, where they're putting themselves, and the general public at risk,” Tate said.

Tate said he want to get the bill to the governor’s desk this year. It also covers other products that can mask drug use, like pills and shampoos.

The Petersons said they hope it is passed and signed. They said they do not want to punish those who struggle with addiction. Instead, they want them to get help – help they wish their son had received. Ben was their oldest son, who, at 26, left behind two young children of his own.

“Everything we do is in honor of Ben,” Mike said.

Full text of the bill: