HT Explainer: ‘Dope test does not diagnose drug addiction’

With the drug de-addiction drive in Punjab gaining momentum, a political slugfest is unfolding with the government making dope test a must for all its employees and the opposition demanding the ruling party members take the lead and undergo the same. Here is all you wanted to know about what is a drug test and its efficacy.

Dr Debasish Basu, a professor at the drug de-addiction and treatment centre at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, says drug testing procedures only aim to detect the presence of narcotics in samples tested but do not diagnose drug addiction. For example, a person who had smoked cannabis in a party a few days ago (but without any regular use of cannabis) could test positive, whereas a regular user of heroin who had abstained for 3-4 days prior to giving the urine sample may test negative.

“There are many technical caveats to using workplace drug testing and interpretation of results. False positive results can have unfair implications for the employee and human rights violation, hence the need for elaborate procedures starting from sample collection and two-stage testing and interpretation,” he says.

What is a dope test?

It is the colloquial term for detection of the presence of psychoactive drugs in biological specimens.

How it is conducted?

It can be conducted using body fluids such as urine, saliva, sweat and blood or solid specimens like hair and nail. However, by far the most common is urine, especially for workplace drug testing. The test is usually conducted in two steps: an initial screening test by an immunoassay (which gives quick results within a few minutes, like the pregnancy test, with a drop of urine), and later by a confirmatory test or gas chromatography and mass spectrophotometry (GC-MS). The latter tests are costly, complex, and can be conducted only in specialised laboratories.

Which substances are detected in the dope test?

Opioids such as heroin, morphine, codeine, buprenorphine, tramadol; cannabis; stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine; and benzodiazepines.

How accurate are these tests?

The rapid immunoassays are screening tests. They are only presumptive of presence. There can be both false positives and false negatives.

What is the timeframe within which the test is to be conducted after the drug use?

It varies from drug to drug. Generally, for opioids like heroin, the window of detection is from six hours up to two days of last intake.

Where are dope tests conducted?

The immunoassay based urine kits are freely available and relatively cheap. The confirmatory tests are expensive and need to be conducted in accredited laboratories.

How much do they cost?

About Rs 50-Rs 100 per test for rapid immunoassay; a few thousand of rupees per test in case of GC-MS.

How long do the reports take?

Immunoassay takes seconds to minutes, while the GC-MS takes a couple of days.

Who is authorised to conduct the tests?

Immunoassay can be done by anyone. GC-MS requires trained and certified personnel.

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