A new test can detect presence of the "date rape" drug GHB and fake alcohol in saliva. The new spit test can be taken as soon as the patient arrives at the clinic or hospital and can provide results within minutes.

A joint team of researchers from England's Loughborough University and Spain's University of Cordoba developed the breakthrough test to easily detect poisons and alcohols in human saliva.

Loughborough's Paul Thomas, who was part of the research team, said the test is unique from other existing ones because it detects all poisonous alcohols such as ethylene glycol and methanol. Previous tests only screen alcohols found in booze.

"These are industrial chemicals that are sometimes found in counterfeit drinks and are very poisonous and dangerous," said Thomas.

The new spit test can also screen human saliva for the presence of the so-called party drug or date rapedrug gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB). This particular drug is also known as "liquid ecstasy" and can come in the form of liquids, pills and powders.

In the study, the new test was able to detect presence of GHB, methanol, ethylene glycol, ethanol, propan 1 and 3 glycol. Non-intoxicated subjects provided "fresh" saliva where the chemicals were then added. Using a technique called gas chromatography-differential mobility spectrometry, the team successfully identified the present compounds.

"Saliva is a particularly complicated material to work with due to the presence of bacteria and their metabolites from the mouth, and ammonia at high enough levels to change the chemistry of the measurement system unless carefully managed," explained Thomas. Regardless of challenges, the new test clearly identified GHB in the saliva sample despite low concentrations.

Speed testing is very crucial, according to Thomas. The body processes these substances very fast. Another date rape drug, Rohypnol or "roofies," can stay in the body's system for 72 hours. However, GHB is typically processed by the body with the 12-hour window. Getting the samples as early as possible is the key to detecting the compounds present in human saliva.

The new test offers health practitioners a quick-and-easy system, with the help of already existing easy-to-use tests, to examine patients even if they are really drunk without using pins and needles. The new test doesn't require blood samples and can give results within minutes.

Counterfeit alcohols account for a lot of deaths. The new test can detect fake alcohol, quickly eliminating methanol and antifreeze. The research was published in the Journal of Breath Research on Jan. 8. The team is gearing up for a trial study among emergency patients.

Photo : Mark Mitchell | Flickr

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