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A new frontier in detection

July 16, 2009
by root
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A company is measuring passive exposure to meth

Technological advances are allowing entities that conduct drug testing to expand their reach into the area of passive exposure to some drugs, with methamphetamine being a primary target of these efforts.

Passive exposure to meth occurs when a non-user of the drug touches a surface or inhales air that contains traces of the drug. Because meth residue can remain on surfaces for long periods of time, a number of unsuspecting individuals in various settings could be at some risk, say researchers and professionals in the testing industry. “There is a growing recognition that in some communities people are buying homes that people once cooked in,” says Steve Schmidt, Vice President and General Manager of the Security Division at Tucson, Arizona-based CDEX, Inc., a developer of patented systems for drug detection. “Some kids have visited emergency rooms with illnesses, and we have come to find out that where they live was formerly a meth lab.” One of CDEX’s main products is called the ID2 Meth Scanner, a device that uses enhanced photoemission spectroscopy technology in order to identify the presence of methamphetamine. Schmidt considers law enforcement the largest potential market for the scanner, although he adds that the company would like to get more of the devices into the hands of child protective services agencies as well.
Health risks
Science is beginning to allow for some quantification of the levels at which exposure to residual traces of methamphetamine can be hazardous to individuals’ health, Schmidt says. In addition, the presence of methamphetamine can add another wrinkle to the potential accuracy of traditional drug testing screens administered to some individuals. “You could test positive if you’ve been in a place where meth was manufactured,” Schmidt says. Many jurisdictions in areas of the country where meth has made inroads have established medical protocols to assist drug-exposed children. In Olmsted County, Minnesota, for example, a community task force that included local public health officials, emergency medical services personnel and health center professionals established three protocols governing field medical assessments of children at meth lab seizure sites, immediate care evaluations, and baseline and follow-up assessments. The officials’ work covered both the cases of children found at seized meth labs and those who might have had a more limited exposure to the drug through living in close proximity to a lab or being a casual visitor. There remains much to be discovered about the health effects of exposure to meth residues at sites formerly used to manufacture the drug. Yet health officials believe exposure to residues can cause a variety of symptoms similar to those experienced by meth users themselves. Traces of meth often can be found in absorbent materials such as carpets at former lab sites, and even in ventilation systems. CDEX’s photoemission spectroscopy technology allows its users to detect the presence of meth without actually handling the drug. “We don’t damage the sample by mixing it with chemicals,” Schmidt says. He adds that with about half of the estimated 26 to 30 million worldwide users of meth residing in the U.S., the stakes are high in the effort to detect its presence and who might be affected adversely from it. The issue is especially pressing in rural communities where meth has maintained a strong presence. Schmidt believes that as science reveals more about the effects of passive exposure, the effort to detect the residual presence of meth could become a routine element in home inspections in some communities.
Treatment center market

Schmidt says treatment centers are on CDEX’s radar as a possible market for its detection technology, although to this point they haven’t surfaced as a primary audience. “I would think treatment centers would want to know if anyone in their program might be cheating, by testing to see if there is any residue around,” Schmidt says. Yet to this point, the justice system remains CDEX’s primary focus for the ID2 Meth Scanner. “There is a big problem with meth in jails and prisons,” Schmidt says. “The drug gets smuggled in. You can soak paper in meth, ingest the paper and pick up a buzz.”