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Saliva test quickly detects alcohol, GHB

Making it as easy as possible to identify intoxicants in patients could make it easier to treat overdoses, researchers said.
By Stephen Feller   |   Jan. 13, 2016 at 3:35 PM

LEICESTERSHIRE, England, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- As hospital doctors report issues identifying whether patients are drunk or have consumed another drug with similar effects, researchers have worked to develop tests that rapidly determine the substance affecting a patient.

Researchers from Loughborough University and the University of Cordoba developed a saliva test that screens for poisons associated with cheap or imitation alcohol, and can detect the "date rape drug" GHB.

GHB was legal and available over the counter until 1990, and often sold as a bodybuilding supplement. In 2000, it was made illegal in the United States after emergency room visits from the drug quadrupled from 1998 to 2000, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Aside from recreational uses, GHB also has become known as a date rape drug because it is colorless, odorless, and, if mixed into another drink, relatively tasteless.

Like a test developed in 2015 to detect ketamine in people at the emergency room who appear drunk despite not drinking, the saliva test is meant to help ER doctors select the proper treatment for alcohol or drug overdoses.

"We're hoping to demonstrate that this test will be simple, effective and useful for clinicians to use," said Paul Thomas, a professor of analytical science at Loughborough University, in a press release. "I think this is a very exciting area of research and in the next few years there will be a host of simple tests on breath, skin and saliva that will aid with diagnosis in hospitals."

In a study detailing the test, published in the Journal of Breath Research, researchers developed a chemical test to detect the presence of methanol, ethanol, ethylene glycol, propan 1,3 glycol, and γ-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB.

After adding the chemicals to fresh saliva samples from volunteers, the researchers were able to detect all forms of alcohol they were looking for, as well as GHB, using gas chromatography-differential mobility spectrometry, an analysis method similar to that used in the ketamine detection test.

The researchers said the next step is trials in actual emergency rooms, which they are currently planning.

"Many people attending accident and emergency departments have some kind of alcohol-related issue, particularly at the weekends," Thomas said. "We're aiming to develop a test that is as simple as taking temperature with a thermometer that detects when patients are more than just drunk."

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