New Drug Test Can Help Police Keep Up With Legal Highs

By Victoria Kim 12/14/15

The new test could potentially help save lives.

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A new cheaper and more efficient drug test could help authorities keep up with ever-changing “legal highs” or club drugs, which traffickers are churning out faster than police can track.

The study, a collaboration between researchers in Portugal and Spain, was published in the Journal of Chromatography B. It details the new drug test, which can identify even trace amounts of club drugs in urine and in one’s blood plasma.

Currently, there is no standard test that can detect ketamine or any other club drug. This makes it difficult to track these drugs, which could contain deadly ingredients. “These drugs are difficult to analyze—we see a lot of versatility in the molecules and new drugs are appearing almost every month; traffickers are always one step ahead of the authorities,” said Dr. Eugenia Gallardo, the lead author of the study.

The researchers employed a technique commonly used in drug detection, fire investigation, and environmental analysis known as gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS). The test, which takes about 30 minutes, was able to detect amounts of ketamine as low as five nanograms per milliliter.

“These low limits of detection and the quite high amounts of the compounds extracted from very small samples make this procedure suitable for laboratories performing routine analysis in the field of forensic toxicology,” said Dr. Gallardo.

The new method is efficient and has a practical real-life application. “Compared with existing methods, our new procedure is faster and more cost effective,” said Dr. Gallardo.

Hundreds of synthetic drugs have popped up on the market and have been reported to trigger unpredictable and sometimes fatal results. The new screening method will help inform the medical community as well as law enforcement about these often dangerous drugs. For example, when people are hospitalized for ketamine intoxication, their symptoms can be easily mistaken for alcohol intoxication. As a result, these patients often receive the wrong treatment. With this test, doctors can know the difference.

“Analytical methods for detecting drugs in biological samples play a decisive role, and their reliability is a matter of great significance in forensic and clinical toxicology,” said Dr. Gallardo.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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