New Technology Tests Breath for Illegal Drugs

For many years, testing urine samples have been the primary method of checking for the presence of drugs and alcohol. However, this can be an invasive and challenging process, depending on circumstances. Urine samples can present problems such as the following:

  • Samples are easy to manipulate, those being tested can purchase drug and alcohol-free urine.
  • Samples may be easily tainted with other substances, such as water and/or other easy to obtain items,
  • The sample must be procured by witnessing the person creating the sample, often considered an invasion of privacy.
  • Results can be complicated by the presence of other medications and is not always accurate.
  • Samples are messy and may be mishandled easily.

The search for more accurate forms of testing has been ongoing. Blood tests are one option, but are lengthy to perform and require medical staff to obtain, as well as process. Expensive lab fees and long waiting periods for results are other reasons this method is less popular.

What is the new approach?

New technology being developed eliminates many of these factors. Analyzing the breath of the person being tested happens with a process called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. This is a highly sensitive method for detection of drugs in the system of the person being tested.

Basically, this technology captures small aerosol particles being exhaled and tests them for the presence of drugs. The device collects these particles and filters them for presence of drugs, such as amphetamines, methamphetamines, marijuana and cocaine.

How will it be applied?

Those most often impacted by the waiting period for testing of urine or blood are law enforcement officers and personnel. Others who will find this form of testing valuable and viable are employers who perform random testing, emergency room personnel who must act quickly in medical situations, treatment professionals who perform regular testing of participants, school officials who suspect drug use on campus, sporting officials who must perform random testing on athletes in competitions, and all those who need to save money on testing procedures as well as obtaining access to fast results of the testing.

What is the importance of testing?

Recent studies have shown that approximately 75 percent of those aged 18 and higher who use drugs, even only occasionally, are employed. They often use drugs while on the job and in the workplace, therefore making them a high risk group for workplace accidents and loss of productivity.

Using the percentage above, this translates to about 42,000 people per year who are coming to work high or getting high while in the workplace. This can lead to liability for the employer in many arenas. Is it any wonder that more employers are beginning to see the benefit of drug testing for their employees? It is estimated that approximately three quarters of the Fortune 500 companies now regularly perform drug tests.

Retraining costs and loss of productivity from employees who begin to lose work and eventually either quit or are laid off has created the trend toward pre-employment drug screens. It is estimated that 71% of employers now utilize this practice. Waiting times for blood and urine samples, along with high costs of lab and medical fees for this practice make the new technology very appealing for small to medium sized companies who currently do this type of testing.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

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