29 October 2007

Drug Testing Times


Another big merger in the drug testing market - and testing spreads in to more arenas. Is it time for clear legislation and policy to regulate this growing market?

At the end of September 2007, AIM listed company Concateno bought the drug testing company Cozart. Since 2006, and following a rapid spending spree, Concateno has acquired most of the drug-testing companies in the UK, and now controls a portfolio including Medscreen Ltd, Altrix HealthCare, Euromed, TrichoTech, Marconova, CPL, and Cozart Bioscience.

Part of the rationale for the acquisition of Cozart was to gain access to the Cozart Rapiscan technology which allows for portable drug testing in places such as road-side testing.

Concateno is now a hugely powerful player in the international drug-testing field, covering most aspects of testing (except Ion Scan technology). Having gained control over the key testing companies, logic suggests that we will now see an increase in lobbying to expand drug testing in a variety of settings. At present drug testing has been focussed on safety critical, criminal justice and drug treatment settings. The next expansion is likely to be in non-critical settings - general workplace, education and social settings.

We've already seen the start of this expansion - the random drug testing of school-children, for example. But this is only the start. At the moment, most of the testing technologies are, to a greater or lesser extent, invasive. The exception, and one of the companies not yet owned by Concateno is the Ion Scan.

It is this last technology, probably the most controversial of all the drug testing modalities, which is the greatest cause for concern. As the cost of Ion Scan technology has decreased, and as the availability of the equipment increases, we are seeing this technology being used in a range of settings.

Alongside the use of Ion-Scanners in school settings as part of so called "drugs awareness sessions" they are also increasingly being used in pub and club settings, random (consensual) testing of motorists and other public arenas.

Some police forces have even approached and 'encouraged' hostels and direct access services to allow the use of testing equipment on residents.

All this leads to a couple of inexorable conclusions: the first is that the use of the Ion Scan technology is going to increase and the second is that there is insufficient regulation or protection in place as to how and when it can be used. Given that results from Ion Trace technology are especially prone to generating "false positives" due to extraneous contamination, the unmoderated and unverified use of this technology has to be a cause for concern.

At present there is no obligation to consent to scanning with an Ion Trace detector in a public place. However, there is less clarity as to whether or not refusal to consent to a trace should be reasonable grounds for a stop and search. PACE needs to be amended to make it clear that refusal to be Scanned should not, of itself, be considered grounds for a search.

Likewise, to date much of the testing has taken place in semi-voluntary settings such as pubs and clubs. But its imposition in involuntary settings such as schools, or essential services such as hostels changes this dynamic. In these settings the 'choice' to be tested or not is severely restricted.

Finally, the status of Ion Scan test results are not well established in the UK. But given the rise and rise of this testing technology, we are long overdue legislation and guidance to manage this burgeoning technology.

Dr Kay Lumas' book "Drug Testing in the Workplace - A Pilot study on trace detection technology is now available. For information and review see here

Concateno buys Cozart: http://www.hemscott.com/news/latest-news/item.do?newsId=51002736731140

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