The Future of Drug Testing

Discussion in 'General' started by RMJL, Feb 20, 2004.

  1. I didn't read it thoroughly cause I'm in a rush but it appears to be just alcohol testing for now.



    New Patch Nixes the Liquid Lunch By Louise Knapp
    Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/gizmos/0,1452,61158,00.html

    02:00 AM Nov. 26, 2003 PT


    When boarding a plane, dropping off the kids with the nanny or watching a 10-wheeler careening down the highway, the last thing you want to worry about is whether the pilot, nanny or driver has been imbibing something stronger than coffee.

    Some reassurance may be offered from an alcohol-monitoring skin patch being developed by SpectRx. The wireless patch is placed over four tiny holes made in the employee's skin, through which small samples of fluid are continuously tested. The test results are then transmitted to a receiver.

    If the monitor picks up a whiff of alcohol, the transmission is altered to alert officials manning the receivers so the airline pilot can be grounded, the children rescued from the nanny and the vehicle disabled with an ignition-lock system, keeping the would-be drunk driver off the road.

    SpectRx will begin human clinical studies in the first half of 2004. If all goes well, the device could be ready for market in three years.

    While good news for employers wanting to ensure their work force stays away from the booze, employees may find the device hard to swallow.

    "Anything that is this invasive will cause a lot of push back. Nobody wants to be monitored quite that closely," said Captain James Shilling, a pilot for a major cargo airline and spokesman for The Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations.

    While employers may, in some industries, be within their legal rights to enforce this kind of monitoring, it could end up causing a headache to rival any hangover.

    "Employees are going to hate it -- they will feel it's none of your business. If employers think about it carefully, they may find it would be more prudent for them not to pursue this," said Michael Zimmer, professor at Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey.

    On-the-job imbibing is currently monitored by random checks in which a blood or urine sample is taken and analyzed. Gregg Overman, communications director for the Allied Pilots Association, said these tests are more than adequate to do the job.

    "Pilots are already subject to random testing and biannual physicals, so they are highly monitored already -- possibly more so than any other industry in the United States," Overman said.

    But Bill Wells, media spokesman for SpectRx, said current methods are limited.

    "The current ones are point-in-time tests -- the state of affairs only at the time the test is taken," said Wells. "Ours would allow for continuous monitoring, it can determine how much alcohol there is in the body, and it can do this in real time."

    Assistant professor Kelly Timmons of Georgia State University's College of Law said the case for constant monitoring could be made if employers prove that drunk employees could cause a lot of damage.

    "So it could be used for nuclear power plant employees, for instance, or airline pilots," she said.

    For the monitor to work, employees first have to have four microscopic holes -- about the size of a human hair -- burnt into the outer layer of their skin by a handheld laser. A small amount of dye, designed specifically to react with the laser, is placed on the skin.

    "It creates a small explosion that runs of out of energy at a very shallow depth," Wells said. "It's a feat of violence in a very small area."

    Despite all this violence, Wells said you hardly feel a thing. "I've had it done to myself very many times. It's a sensation you notice, but it's not at all painful," he said.

    Next, the patch, made of a transparent blue plastic, is applied over the holes. "It's typically done on the torso but can be worn on the buttocks or thigh," Wells said.

    The oval patch houses a miniature vacuum pump that sucks out interstitial fluid, a clear, water-like fluid that surrounds cells in the body.

    "The pump is a very simple device -- it's like a rubber bulb you depress, and as it fills back up with air it creates a vacuum and pulls the sample out," Wells said.

    The patch contains a chemical designed to react if it comes into contact with any alcohol in the sample. An electrochemical sensor, also housed in the patch, senses any changes in the chemical reaction and converts these changes into an electrical signal.

    The more alcohol detected, the greater the change in the electrical signal, so the employer can know exactly how drunk the employee is.

    This signal is transmitted to a small receiver, about the size of a pack of cigarettes, installed in the cockpit, nursery or truck cab. The information from this receiver is then relayed to a monitoring station.

    "This could be a manned station or a computer that tracks the data, and once it reaches a certain threshold it could send out the alarm," Wells said.

    The system, including the laser and small receiver box, will be priced at about $300. The patches, which last for three days, would cost around $12 each.


    http://www.wired.com/news/gizmos/0,1452,61158,00.html
     

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