Drug testing technology is rapidly evolving to keep pace with the development of new synthetic drugs, cannabis legislation, and the need for both quick and accurate results. (Learn more in Drug Test Types: When to Use 5, 7 or 12 Panel Urine Screening). Here are six ways research and technology are being used to revolutionize the process.

1. More Information Can Be Found In Your Fingertips

Fingerprints have long been a unique personal identifier associated with law enforcement. Today, technology is being developed that uses that same fingerprint to determine presence of drugs in an individual's system. Paper spray ionization analyzes the molecules emitted in the fingerprint when the body metabolizes drugs. The test is non-invasive, portable, and provides results in a matter of seconds. The test also eliminates the possibility of illegal substitution or alteration of urine samples while providing undeniable identification of the subject tested. Not only does this test provide quick results, it’s also more than 99% accurate.


2. Forget An Entire Vial Or Container — A Single Drop of Blood or Urine
 Is Enough

Although the use of blood and urine samples have been a staple of drug testing for many years, timeliness, cost, and scope of testing have been an issue for employers, the legal system, and those involved in athletics. Research at the University of Waterloo in Canada is focused on creating new methods to reduce the time required in testing samples from 30 minutes to less than a minute. With only a single drop of blood or urine, blade spray ionization mass spectrometry will detect more than 100 drugs in any test subject in only a few seconds and reduce costs from near $100 per sample to only a few dollars. 


3. A Surprisingly High Tech Process Involving A Toothpick

Drug testing research at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University is at the forefront of rapid detection of banned substance use through a technique called wooden-tip electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. Using a toothpick to collect the sample, and a combination of high voltage and spray ionization, cocaine and amphetamines are easily identified without the need for chromatographic separation. This process is more accurate and reduces time, cost, and labor involved in testing for drugs. The portability of the process and the range of drugs that can be identified will increase as the technology continues to develop. 


4. Substances Screened Using Just Exhaled Breath

Scientists in Sweden from the Karolinska Institutet are perfecting a screening method for substance abuse based on exhaled breath. Using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, substances including heroin, cocaine, cannabis, methamphetamines, and amphetamines can be detected by analyzing aerosol particles in a breath sample originating from the subject’s airway lining fluid.

The legalization of cannabis in several states and Canada is also pushing the development of just-in-time breath analysis for the testing of impairment at both the roadside and the workplace. As THC remains in a subject's system for weeks after cannabis use, it is essential that the technology can detect use within a margin of a few hours. Although saliva-based technology remains the most popular and reliable at this time, breath-based cannabis detection may soon be the norm.


5. The Benefits Of Continued Technology Focused On Hair Testing

The advantage of using hair for drug testing is the high level of accuracy. (Learn more in Everything You Need To Know About Hair Drug Testing). Consumed chemicals are integrated into the hair as it grows. Although detection is not possible for about a week, traces of drug usage will remain in the hair for months, thus a strand of hair becomes a linear history of ingested drugs. Other advantages of hair analysis include the fact that hair can be stored for an extended period and the fact that using this technique eliminates fooling the system either by time delays or sample modification. The use of a fingernail or toenail is similar to hair testing in that both are composed of keratin, making analysis almost identical. The advantage of using a nail rather than hair is that the detection window is up to eight months longer, and cannot be avoided as easily as a shaved head. Given that, hair or nails are best used for detecting long-term drug usage rather than just-in-time on-site impairment.


6. Using Eye Movement To Gain An Overview of Past And Current Habits

Drug testing by the measurement of eye movement through an infrared camera technology will soon be available. The camera acts as a lie detector measuring up to 60 involuntary eye movements per second through a series of true or false questions. In combination with pupil dilation and a few other factors, this tool is surprisingly accurate. Although the test does not necessarily determine whether or not the subject is currently under the influence of a banned substance, this technology can be used to provide an overview of past and current habits related to the use of drugs or alcohol. Other types of drug testing through eye scanning technology are already in use in California and several other states. Pupillometer technology scans a subject’s eye for specific imprints left by the use of drugs or alcohol. It only takes seconds for this technology to determine whether drugs are affecting the nervous system, alerting authorities whether further urine analysis is necessary.


Looking Into The Future

New drug testing technologies focussed on portability, accuracy, speed, and non-evasive procedure are the future of drug testing in the workplace. Avoiding or manipulating samples to beat the system will soon be a thing of the past.