Researchers have taken major steps in drug analysis.
While medication is often prescribed as a way to relieve the stresses and traumas following combat, more than 20 percent of military people with post-traumatic stress disorder have developed a drug or alcohol addiction. Although there are treatments for substance dependence, including medication to reduce its use (Buprenorphine), tests performed by Veterans Affairs hospital physicians that check for recurring drug use usually involve collecting urine samples and sending to a lab for analysis, which could take up to two weeks.
But now you don’t have to wait that long. In fact, you could get test results while the individual is still in the VA hospital so that treatment can be quickly adjusted.
Real-Time Analyzers Inc. has been developing a surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS)-based assay that can detect and identify numerous drugs in saliva at ng/mL concentrations within 10 minutes. The sample collection from subjects began in August 2015 and is ongoing. While the first field-usable Raman spectrometer was developed more than a decade ago, today the company uses a hand-held version to measure the drugs in saliva.
The Connecticut-based company that designs and manufactures Raman analyzers for use in field, plant and laboratory settings partnered with CT Veterans Affairs Hospital, so all of its subjects were in fact military personnel.
“The goal is to try and help our veterans reduce their addiction to the drugs that they started taking when they were in the field,” Stuart Farquharson, Ph.D., Board of Directors member & president at Real-Time Analyzers told R&D Magazine after his session at Pittcon in Atlanta earlier this month, titled Clinical Toxicology: Analysis of Drugs in Saliva During Treatment of PTSD Patients. “To do that, we need to monitor that they’re taking the drugs that are trying to help them and that’s been the biggest issue, we need a point-of-care measurement so you know what the situation is when the doctor is talking to them each time they visit.”
Co-authors of this study also included Katie Dana, Chetan Shende and Dr. Albert Arias.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 23.9 million Americans currently use illicit drugs, and 6.8 million Americans misuse prescription drugs.
The most common drugs prescribed to PTSD patients are Benzodiazepines and an addictive anxiety medication called Diazepam.
As a result, the SERS analyzer was developed to provide the following:
- Specificity—Identify and discriminate drugs and metabolites (no false positives)
- Sensitivity—Detect 25 ng/mL (25 PPB) concentrations
- Reproducibility—Accurate and repeatable results
- Speed—Analysis within 15 minutes
Real-Time Analyzers used the portable drug analyzer by collecting 1 mL of saliva, added a sample of reagent tube, passed the sample through a filter into Lab-on-chip, then inserted the LOC into the portable Raman analyzer. The device extracted drugs using SLE. The team measured 150 drugs, looking for the standard ones of abuse, such as cocaine and prescription drugs.
The researchers also developed a spectral search and match software to ID the drugs found in the subject’s saliva.
“In the end we were able to get a measurement that was pretty consistent,” Farquharson said during the session.
The research team’s findings were “shocking,” according to Farquharson—of the more than 100 samples measured, very few of them had any drugs at all in their system, save for “street drugs.”
“That’s another part of the scenario—they (veterans) are selling the medication they’re using to get other drugs, which is really unfortunate,” he added.
While the research team achieved the required 10-50 nanograms/mL sensitivity for many of the drugs in water samples, they still need to improve the extraction method to obtain the same sensitivity in saliva samples.
“Our goal is to have an analyzer and method that can identify and quantify drugs in saliva within 10 minutes of sample collection. This would provide doctors with the ability to evaluate PTSD patients during office visits. The analyzer would also allow rapid identification of drug type in emergency-room overdose patients,” Farquharson concluded.
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