Quick test tracks down drug abusers

By Duncan Graham-Rowe POLICE, sports regulators and employers will soon have a new tool to aid their efforts to monitor drug abuse: a hand-held unit called the Cozart RapiScan. The device simultaneously tests a sample of saliva for a host of substances such as cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy, opiates such as heroin and morphine, and benzodiazepines. A swab of saliva is placed inside a cartridge containing a strip of nitrocellulose membrane divided into a number of zones. Each zone is laced with different types of antibodies and receptors that are sensitive to a specific drug. As the strip absorbs clean saliva, the antibodies float free and bind to their receptors, turning the membrane pink. However, if the saliva contains certain drugs, the antibodies have to compete with the drugs in order to bind to the membrane in their respective zones—so there is no colour change. RapiScan reads colour changes electronically so judgments are not subjective. And the maker claims the system can detect nanogram quantities of drugs using just a millilitre of saliva. “This is as reliable as a urine test but much faster, with a result appearing in five to 12 minutes. It’s as easy as reading a pregnancy test,” says a spokeswoman for Cozart,
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