Testing for drugs in the human body only ever seems to hit the headlines when high profile sports people are involved. World cycling, for example, appears to have been awash with performance-enhancing drugs for many years whilst athletics has also tarnished its image on many occasions. World governing bodies work hard to keep up with detecting these drugs, with considerable success thanks to innovations in drug testing software.
Yet the predominance of sporting stories masks the fact that drug testing is now used in many different spheres of work and life, and in some countries it is increasingly part of legislation that certain employees must undertake drug testing.
Since drug testing began, a range of different methodologies have developed and innovative work by Concateno, the company that has brought together six of Europe’s most experienced drug, healthcare and alcohol testing organisations has brought real advances. With over 60 years’ expertise between them they have combined to make a formidable operation in the drug-testing arena.
Methods for drug testing
Using the correct methodology to carry out drug testing is essential, as getting a false result could seriously impact on the wellbeing of an employee or a member of the public who may be involved in a legal process. The use of forensics is often at the forefront of criminal trials and regularly features on TV crime programmes, as a result it is a matter of serious interest to many lay people.
There are four major ways in which drug tests can be carried out, and it depends on the end use for the appropriate one to be determined and applied. Samples of oral fluid, urine, blood and hair can be taken dependent on what is being tested for.
Tests made on oral fluid are usually to establish if a person has been taking specific drugs or families of drugs, especially those that are proscribed by law. Thus traces of drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis could be identified, or methamphetamines such as crystal meth. Results could be used in a case at an industrial tribunal or in a court of law.
Testing urine samples is generally associated with the World Anti-Doping Agency that is responsible for drug testing across all sports. Yet its main application is across the health service, where tests can be conducted for pregnancy or to detect symptoms of diseases such as diabetes or urinary tract infections.
Often considered to be routine at a GP clinic or hospital, blood tests are an essential part of clinical practice. Many users of prohibited drugs who administer them intravenously are unaware that they have Hepatitis C, according to the Hepatitis C Action Plan for England report, and drug testing can identify if they are carrying the virus.
The means of determining if an employee or someone facing criminal charges is a one-off user or a chronic misuser of substances has developed in leaps and bounds since the use of hair in drug testing. Hair can retain traces of drugs over a period of time so that it can now be established if a person persistently uses illegal or other substances.
Other tests can be carried out for areas such as alcohol, benzene, steroids and DNA, with Concateno able to supply all the appropriate kits.