Urinalysis far and away remains the leading mode of drug testing in addiction treatment facilities and other settings, but the potential establishment of additional alternative technologies beyond those already in use continues to be on the industry’s radar.
For example, a company in the United Kingdom that was established in 2007 but has yet to introduce its first product expects in 2014 to bring to market a handheld device that will detect drug metabolites via fingerprint sweat. Intelligent Fingerprinting, based in Norwich, England, was created as a spinout from the University of East Anglia and is drawing from research into metabolites that was conducted by university professor David Russell.
“An effective drug screening program is a critical part of the success of a drug rehabilitation program,” says Paul Yates, business development manager for Intelligent Fingerprinting. “What’s needed is an ability to carry out a fast and accurate screening, both to those who need help and to confirm that when someone is in treatment, they’re sticking to their program.”
Intelligent Fingerprinting is hoping to market a test that is relatively non-invasive and that offers significant potential for truly random testing that is not subject to adulteration or false positives, says Yates.
The company intends to market its eventual product primarily in the United States and the United Kingdom, and will need to receive a number of regulatory approvals to achieve its goals. It will need Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the U.S. to enter the healthcare market, but could make inroads in the forensic/justice arena without regulatory approvals (Yates says the situation is somewhat the opposite in the U.K.).
The technology is designed at the outset to detect for the presence of five drugs: cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines, opiates, and amphetamines. The technology does not generate an evidential sample, so there still would be the need for confirmatory testing beyond the point-of-care test; Yates says the company is working on a possible confirmatory test that also would be based on the fingerprint technology.
The point-of-care test collects a single fingerprint sample on a credit-card sized plastic receptacle, then tests for drug metabolites using a hand-held device that is highly portable. The fingerprint also can be used to identify the person taking the test, of course, which can serve to guard against misidentified samples.
As part of its development process, Intelligent Fingerprinting is currently collecting fingerprints from patients in London, Yates says. “When you first talk to them about the process, they ask about what we’re going to do, because the fingerprint sounds like something the police would use,” he says. “But the fingerprint is not permanently stored; the image is destroyed as part of the analysis process.”
Yates believes the fingerprint test could allow for truly random testing in a treatment facility or other organization because of the non-invasiveness of the test and the convenience of use (test results are available in less than 10 minutes). It could present advantages over urinalysis in that it does not require as much staff training or concern about the identification of collection areas and the disposal of biohazards, he says.
Yates says it remains difficult to place an exact timetable on the introduction of a fingerprint testing device, but he considers a mid-2014 rollout of the first devices to be realistic.
The company has received government funding for studies within Britain’s National Health Service and forensics services, but a consortium of private U.S.-based investors is largely supporting its efforts.
Russell’s published research found that metabolites detected in sweat can uncover a great deal of information about a person’s lifestyle, including the chemicals he/she ingests. Intelligent Fingerprinting has taken those findings and has developed immunoassay reagents to detect substances in fingerprint sweat, using a patented technology based on antibody nanoparticles. The testing product has been in an intensive development stage for the past couple of years, Yates says.
He says the addiction treatment community has expressed a great deal of interest in the technology. “They like the potential ability to do random tests, either in the office or on the street,” he says. “They like that it’s a portable device.”