Chromatography is a Breath of Fresh Air for Drug Testing

Apr 01 2015 Read 10240 Times

With the proliferation of drugs in today’s society, and the rigid controls in place to try and curb their use, drug testing is more prevalent than ever before. It is necessary in the workplace, during court cases, at accident scenes, at the roadside or in the sports arena. In fact, prior to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, new records of drug testing were surpassed.

The good old-fashioned method of drug testing involves analysing a urine sample to detect elements of banned substances in the subject’s body. It’s tried, it’s tested, it works. However, it can also be a little bit invasive and even embarrassing for the subject. To save those blushes, scientists in Sweden have come up with a new method with simply involves breathing into a tube.

A Novel Approach

Working in a similar manner to the already useful breathalyser which police officers use to detect traces of alcohol in the system of drivers, the apparatus will scan the breath of the subjects for several drugs, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, amphetamines and cannabis.

However, unlike a standard breathalyser, the device works using the highly sensitive process of liquid chromatography combined with mass spectrometry (LC-MS). It functions by detecting specific formations of aerosol patterns, which have become contaminated by the drug and as a result behave differently.

“These aerosol particles may become contaminated with drugs present in the body, which enables drugs to be highlighted,” said Olof Beck, the lead researcher at the Karolinska Institute behind the project.

The new technique should make such tests less invasive and could replace all current urine samples for drug detection.

Chromatography Policing Drugs

It’s not the first time that the technique has been put to good use in detecting the presence of drugs. In fact, as far back as 2010, then light-welterweight boxing champion Amir Khan professed his willingness to be tested using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC-MS; a variation of the process). The news came shortly after Khan’s one-time team-mate Manny Pacquiao refused to submit to a similar test.

Meanwhile, in more recent news, chromatography has also revealed astonishing results about the after-effects of music festivals on surrounding habitats. Drug use has long been synonymous with music festivals, however, up until recently, we had no data on how it could affect the local eco-system. By analysing streams and water at wastewater treatment plants at different times around the year, Taiwanese scientists have demonstrated the presence of drugs in the water – especially after a local festival.

This article, Chromatography Uncovers the Effects of Music Festivals on Local Water Supplies, goes into more details about the exact findings of the study, for those interested in learning more. 

Image Source: Winter Breath
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