05 February 2007

Testing Times

Consolidation of Drug Testing Companies - profit over privacy?

There's been a flurry of shopping activity in the world of Drug Testing - and it's not for testing on arrest!

Concateno PLC, an AIM listed company with no history in the field of Substance Misuse, has been buying up a motley collection of Drug testing companies. This has included Medscreen (November 2006) Altrix (January 2007) Trichotech (February 2007) effectively meaning that one company now owns the major urine, mouth swabbing and hair testing companies in the UK. Concateno PLC is a cash-shell company, headed by Keith Tozzi, former Group Technical Director of Southern Water, CEO of the British Standards Institute and former Chairman of Mid Kent Water...

Why does this matter? The risk is that, in a profit-driven market, the ethics of drug testing will gradually be eroded. To date, most UK testing companies have taken a responsible approach to drug testing by parents and carers. But the worry is that, as the need to create greater shareholder value grows, so the push towards large sales, more widespread testing and more frequent testing grows too.

Any one selling drug testing products has a vested interest in seeing them routinely rolled out in schools, the workplace, and other non-criminal justice settings. This is where the big money lies.

This is something Altrix has been especially keen on. They "passionately believe..." drug and alcohol misuse...are reaching epidemic proportions," and as such drug testing should be embraced to confront these "threats in society." Hence their willingness, enthusiasm and support for such initiatives as the Drug testing in schools rolled out in Kent. No evidence that it reduces use of course, but massive profits for companies.

It will be interesting to see how well these smaller companies can maintain any kind of ethical stance as they become just another part of a larger company.

As there is virtually a monopoly now on drug testing in the UK, it must surely be time for a review of these last purchases and ensure that they continue to act in the interest of the market and consumers.

BBC coverage of Tricho-tech buyout here

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