Former NFL player Onterrio Smith's 2005 airport arrest for possessing the drug-test-beating "Original Whizzinator" generated national headlines and punchlines, but the device's strange saga was just getting started.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Most of the known methods for beating drug tests—flushing your system with fluids, herbal teas, pills, additives, and other home remedies of varying efficacy—mirror the tests themselves. You put something in your system, and then you put something else in your system to conceal it.
Some circumstances, however, demand a more elaborate solution. For observed drug tests, dropping an oxidizer in your sample or emptying a vial of urine taped to the inside of your thigh won't do. You have to fool not only the chemical analysis but also the actual live human being paid to watch you pee.
Enter the Whizzinator, a superlatively ridiculous device briefly made famous by former NFL player Onterrio Smith that operates on an entirely different premise: Rather than work with your existing anatomy, what if you had a new one?
For the uninitiated, the Whizzinator is an elaborate strap-on penis outfitted with a warmed, external bladder that drug testees fill with either clean or synthetic urine. Until 2008, the device was specifically marketed for the purposes of peeing clean on a drug test. Although its marketing copy no longer directly promotes that purpose for legal reasons, the product itself remains largely unchanged.
Given the surprisingly extensive legislative and legal efforts directed against it, you could even say that the Whizzinator endures.
If you're already familiar with the device, it is likely because of Smith, a former Minnesota Vikings running back. On April 21, 2005, security at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport found several vials of dried urine and a Whizzinator among his personal belongings. Smith, who was kicked off the University of Tennessee football team for marijuana use in 2000, already had two substance abuse violations in the NFL for pot; a third would mean a full year's suspension.
Smith claimed the Whizzinator was for his cousin. Merely being caught with the contraption didn't count as a third NFL strike, and league spokesman Greg Aiello helpfully explained to USA Today that pro football's drug tests required that "players be visually observed from the front giving the sample with their shirts off and pants (including underwear) pulled down to their knees, making the effectiveness of (the product) remote."
Both Smith and the fake plastic penis became punch lines in sports columns and on late-night television. Smith failed an NFL drug test less than a month later, got the suspension, and was later released by the Vikings, effectively ending his professional football career.
Meanwhile, the Whizzinator's strange saga was just getting started.
For all of the giggling surrounding the device—of which there was a great deal—some saw it as no laughing matter. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those people worked in the federal government, and, in one of American history's great coincidences, they had already scheduled a congressional hearing on the "Subversion of Drug Testing Programs" for May 17, 2005, just four days after the news of Smith's Whizzinator incident hit the press.
Although it was not exclusively about the Whizzinator, the product was mentioned 20 times during the hearing. One of the panelists for the hearing, the aptly named Barry Sample of Quest Diagnostics, a major drug testing company, told VICE Sports that the purpose of the hearing was to explore the possibility of federal legislation to curtail the sale of such drug-testing-evasion products over the internet.
The chairman of the subcommittee holding the hearing, Republican Congressman Ed Whitfield of Kentucky—who resigned last year amid an ethics probe regarding "special favors" he gave to his lobbyist wife—kicked things off with fearmongering ripped straight from the D.A.R.E. program.
"We know many thousands, if not millions, of users of illicit drugs are escaping detection and putting the public at risk," Whitfield said, contradicting the government's own data from the 2003 fiscal year showing that a grand total of 42 out of roughly 200,000 drug tests of current or prospective federal employees were reported as invalid, adulterated, or substituted. "The purveyors of these products that sell these products and who have been subpoenaed to appear here today"—those three purveyors, by the way, subsequently pled the Fifth—"should ponder on their flights home how they would feel if their pilot was allowed to operate the aircraft impaired because of the products they sell. I hope they think about that at about 30,000 feet."
During the three-hour hearing, not a single person made the distinction between the use of recreational drugs like marijuana outside of work with using drugs at work. (The results of scholarly studies that have investigated workplace drug testing are divided across gender and age group lines, and testing does appear to deter drug use in general.) Instead, the logic used by the lawmakers on hand went roughly like this: the federal government uses drug testing to screen potential and current employees for drug use, which means that any device or product that circumvents said testing—including a fake penis that pees fake pee—is a threat.
And not just any threat. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) went so far as to draw a direct line from the Whizzinator to, you guessed it, 9/11. Since the terror attacks of that day, she noted, "increased national security concerns have increased federal agency workplace drug testing from 100,000 to over 210,000 tests per year." The implication was clear: the Whizzinator undermined the fight against terrorism. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American.
Still, this wasn't even the most bizarre moment of the hearing. That honor goes to the brief testimony of then 31-year-old Josiah Wayne Smith, who joined the hearing via teleconference because he was in jail at the time for beating his mandatory drug tests while on parole.
Smith testified that he had to pass drug tests to work at Sam's Club, Walmart, and an unnamed mattress company. Despite using marijuana and cocaine frequently, he managed to pass all these tests by ingesting an herbal tea he bought at GNC. In a truly Olympian effort of willfully missing all the real lessons to be learned from a man who had been in and out of jail since he was a teenager for drug use, Rep. Whitfield dismissed Smith and thanked him for his time.
After the three "purveyors" of drug-test-circumvention products were called forward and subsequently pled the Fifth—including Dennis Catalano, co-owner of Puck Technology, the e-commerce company that sold the Whizzinator—the hearing was adjourned.
Three years later, Catalano was arrested along with the Whizzinator's patent holder and co-owner of Puck Technology, Gerald Wills. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the United States Department of Health and Human Services oversees and monitors federal drug testing, and the Whizzinator, according to court documents, defrauded that department by faking the test results. In 2010, Catalano and Wills were convicted in federal court of conspiracy to defraud the United States government.
Wills was sentenced to six months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Catalano got three years' probation. And the Whizzinator? It lives on. In 2010, its trademark was taken over by Alternate Lifestyles Systems, a California-based company.
"The Whizzinator Touch is New and Improved!" its website boasts. "Our new pressure belt and fill port gives you the most realistic flow ever!" The device is available in five different colors: White, Tan, Latino, Brown, and Black.
Frank Avalos, the current general manager of Alternate Lifestyle, told VICE Sports via email that although the company does hold the Whizzinator trademark, it is "in no way associated with the old company.... Our products are intended as adult novelty items and/or prank & gag gifts. ALS Products are not intended for any illegal purpose nor are they to be used to defeat lawfully administered drug tests." The website's footer notes that ALS also sells a product called the Golden Shower, and the link goes to synthetic dry urine, the same kind used to fool drug tests.
Marketing the Whizzinator as a sex toy may be a clever little legal loophole that necessitates a re-reading of the website's promotional copy. "The Whizzinator Touch is a discreet synthetic urine device that is safe for all types of scenarios. It has the most life-like realistic fake penis on the market! The medical grade synthetic urine device features an ultra-quiet flow system that is very easy to use and operates with ONE hand. It has been extensively tested and proven to work in real life situations."
The most obvious question about the Whizzinator—does it work?—isn't exactly the right one. It is the urine, synthetic or otherwise, that passes through the device that needs to "work" to evade the drug test. The rest of it is a cheap prosthetic. Whether or not the fake penis fools a tester is dependent on how observant the tester is and how smoothly the user can operate it.
Determined individuals continue to use the Whizzinator for its original purpose. Of course, we only know about the unsuccessful ones. In 2013, a Missouri man was arrested for trying to cheat a probation-mandated drug test with a Whizzinator. In 2014, a Tennessee man tried the same thing. You probably will not be surprised to learn at least one Florida man was caught using a Whizzinator, too.
The Whizzinator is an inarguably goofy device, a glorified dildo with a hole that clean urine can sluice through. It's so dumb it's funny, until you zoom out from the device itself and into the larger cultural and legal context that makes its existence necessary. Basically, the Whizzinator exists so that someone—perhaps someone with a serious addiction problem; perhaps someone who wants to get high in his or her own home, harming nothing and nobody; perhaps a professional athlete who would rather medicate their chronic, workaday pain with weed instead of team doctor-prescribed opioids—can get a minimum-wage job at the Dollar Store or hold on to an NFL roster spot, the better to participate in American society.
In that context, the Whizzinator stops being a joke.
There was a moment during the 2005 congressional hearing when it seemed like important people might actually begin to grasp this context instead of fretting about Whizzinator-abetted terrorism or nuclear disasters. George Moore, a prosecutor for the state of Kentucky and one of the witnesses that day, came dangerously close. When asked if he would make using a device like the Whizzinator illegal in his state if he could, Moore emphatically affirmed that he would—and then continued to accidentally make a profound point.
"The issue that many States face is that, with growing confinement costs, the legislatures are anxious to keep the users at a misdemeanor level so that the population in the jails does not continue to explode," Moore said in a convoluted statement essentially pointing out that jails are too crowded with drug users. "It is a growing problem, and it is going to continue to be a growing problem, because when we double the number of people we have out on conditional release, those people that are on conditional release are going to be finding a way to beat the system so they can use their narcotics and stay out."
Moore, in a hearing about the freaking Whizzinator, was also talking about quite possibly the biggest issue of our time: mass incarceration largely resulting from the criminalization of recreational drug use. Rather than prompt Congress to consider the larger injustice at hand, the moment passed. The people's representatives went right back to doing the people's business, which meant talking about the fake penis.
To them, the Whizzinator was just another product to outlaw, one more way to legislate drug use out of society. But as is the case with almost every other product for which there's a market despite the law, the device found a loophole. An "adult novelty item"? Suuuure. Currently available for purchase for $140, the Whizzinator isn't merely a byproduct of the war on drugs. It's the perfect metaphor.
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