Irish firm at cutting edge of clampdown on designer drugs
An Antrim firm’s pioneering new tests for legal highs may prove useful to commercial organisations
Drug testing kit: research suggests that cannabis is the most commonly taken illegal drug but new evidence points to the growing popularity of legal highs or so-called designer drugs which mimic the effects of Class A drugs
Look at the person in the cubicle or desk next to you. Is there any way you could tell simply by looking at them if they may have taken an illicit or designer drug before coming to work this morning?
What about when they come back from their break or after lunch? Chances are, unless something goes badly wrong – and normally it is only identified after the event – you will never know if the person sitting next to you at work is taking drugs.
Drug use in the workplace can be very hard to identify and thanks to the growing popularity of “legal highs” it is becoming an increasingly complex and worrying issue for employers.
Under current UK legislation employees can only be tested for drugs with their consent. In Ireland companies may be permitted to carry out a drugs or alcohol test if employees signed up to the practice when they joined the organisation or if they have given their consent to be tested.
Last year an Oireachtas report warned that the misuse of alcohol and other drugs was costing the Irish economy billions of euros and was one of the biggest challenges facing society today. But how big a problem is drug abuse alone in the workplace in 2013?
In the UK official government figures suggest that one in six people between the ages of 16-24 takes drugs regularly. According to the UK Home Office about one third of adults aged 16-59 have taken an illicit drug at some stage in their lifetime.
Its research suggests that cannabis is the most commonly taken illegal drug.
But there is new evidence that highlights the increasing popularity of legal highs or so-called designer drugs which mimic the effects of Class A drugs.
The big challenge for both commercial organisations and law enforcement agencies is how to identify this new generation of designer drugs in tests?
One Northern Ireland company may have the answer; it is pioneering new tests for legal highs. Co Antrim-based Randox Laboratories is an international clinical diagnostics company which over the last two decades has developed a suite of high-tech products that provide more accurate and rapid diagnoses for countless diseases and health complaints.
Two years ago it established a forensics-focused spin-off business, Randox Toxicology, that uses its parent company’s biochip array technology (Bat) to identify substances across a wide range of drug families.
Rick Bell, global business manager with Randox Toxicology, said the company is now at the forefront of the fight against designer drugs. “The availability of these substances, both on high streets and online, is of serious concern given their effect can be as potent as traditional drugs and in some cases as lethal.
“Mainstream science needs to work hard to keep pace with clandestine drug labs, and from our research and manufacturing plant in Crumlin we are able to produce reliable screening tests quickly, accurately and at an affordable price point for forensic laboratories,” Mr Bell said.
According to Randox one of the advantages of the Bat lies with the speed and number of different designer drugs it can detect. This is because the tests developed by the Antrim firm can pinpoint not just one but a range of potential compounds.