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'Party pill' test may help improve drug overdose treatment

In tests, the method was able to detect ketamine at very low levels in blood and urine samples.

By
Stephen Feller
New legal psychoactive substances are increasingly be used in clubs which researchers said are difficult for doctors to identify in emergency rooms. Photo by Razvan Raz/Shutterstock
New legal psychoactive substances are increasingly be used in clubs which researchers said are difficult for doctors to identify in emergency rooms. Photo by Razvan Raz/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- A new test can detect the drug ketamine at very low levels in urine and blood in just 30 minutes, which researchers said can aid in faster, more appropriate treatment of overdoses at emergency rooms.

Recent waves of "new psychoactive substances," synthetic club drugs, pose problems for law enforcement as they are difficult to analyze, and formulations keep changing to stay ahead of the law.

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Ketamine is an animal tranquilizer popular as a club drug because it makes people hallucinate. It also works as a sedative and causes memory loss, and has been used as a date rape drug. Symptoms of ketamine intoxication can be mistaken for alcohol intoxication in emergency rooms.

Researchers at three universities in Portugal and Spain set out to develop a standard screening test for new psychoactive substances. The test they developed can detect ketamine in blood and urine in very low concentrations.

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Researchers used gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry to extract ketamine and norketamine, the substance it creates when broken down, from urine and blood samples. Gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry analysis is commonly used to detect specific substances in drug detection, fire analysis and environmental analysis.

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In about 30 minutes, they were able to detect both substances at levels as low as 5 nanograms per milligram of either sample, which the researchers said would allow forensic labs to run multiple tests on the same sample.

"These low limits of detection and the quite high amounts of the compounds extracted from very small samples make this procedure suitable for laboratories performing routine analysis in the field of forensic toxicology," said Dr. Eugenia Gallardo,a researcher at the University of Beira Interior, in a press release. "Compared with existing methods, our new procedure is faster and more cost effective."

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The study is published in the Journal of Chromatography B.

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