Companies need to ensure their employees are safe, healthy and productive. With high levels of substance misuse, alcohol and drug testing is growing in popularity. Andrew Lowdon, impairment marketing manager at Dräger, reveals how robust and reliable methods are vital, and why the future of screening may be in a single breath.

What are some of the main reasons companies test their employees for drugs and/or alcohol?

Andrew Lowdon: With 76% of people who misuse substances thought to be in regular employment, businesses are faced with real risks to safety, health and productivity. By investing in a workplace drug and alcohol policy, employers can reduce mounting costs and identify potential problems before they escalate.

Understanding the implications of drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace is an important part of developing a robust and cost-effective strategy to address the resulting issues.

To comply with legal requirements, protect staff and the public, and look after the general health and well-being of the workforce, drug and alcohol policies are becoming significantly more mainstay in general industry.

Could you explain the DrägerSensor technology and how this helps ensure reliable test results?

Dräger’s Alcotest breathalyser products use Dräger’s own platinum electrochemical fuel cell sensor. While more expensive than some competitors’ semiconductor-based devices, its fuel cell sensor offers unrivalled reliability and stability. Semiconductors, on the other hand, are vulnerable to sensor drift, which refers to inaccuracy over time.

Dräger is among a very small group of breathalyser manufacturers that has Home Office Type Approval for its devices. This is the standard required by the UK police.

How does the methodology differ when testing for drugs as opposed to alcohol?

Dräger’s Alcotest fuel cell sensors rely on an electrochemical process that oxidises the alcohol in a breath sample and produces an electrical current that the breathalyser measures to determine the breath alcohol content (BAC) within the sample.

Testing for drugs requires a saliva sample gathered via a swab. The DrugTest 5000 and DrugCheck 3000 rely on the competitive immunoassay biochemical test.

Dräger’s patented antibodies are added to the test strips as well as a drug conjugate. The antibody is then labelled, so that if it binds with a drug, it is detectable by the device and can then provide either a negative or positive result for several different drug types.

How can Dräger products be customised to fit the needs and standards of different countries?

Dräger’s drug and alcohol testing devices can be customised and calibrated according to a country’s specific requirements. Equipment such as the DrugTest 5000 can test for up to eight of the most commonly abused drugs, but allows customers to set the test for specific substances. When testing for cannabis, for instance, the device can be customised to test at three different levels (5, 10 or 25ng). The Dräger DrugTest 5000 is the only drug test analyser that has Home Office Type Approval.

Which industries tend to use Dräger products?

Dräger’s drug and alcohol testing devices are used by a huge range of customers from a vast array of industries. The company is the supplier to the majority of police forces in the UK and Ireland. Globally, its breathalysers are used to perform more than two million tests by police every year.

Dräger devices are also used by general industry customers from sectors as diverse as port operations, construction, haulage and logistics, energy generation and the chemical industry. While the more safety-critical industries are prominent users of Dräger products, the number of white-collar industries buying it has increased.

How do you think alcohol and drug testing will evolve in the next few years?

The key expected technological advancements will relate to the speed, sensitivity, range and accuracy of the devices. Dräger launched the first breath alcohol screener in 1953 and, 17 years later, the first digital breathalyser. Improved technology has made devices smaller, faster and more reliable. This trend is only going to continue.

There are companies around the world that are exploring the possibility of testing for cannabis and other drugs in breath. If this is successful then it is not inconceivable to imagine the development of a device that can measure for alcohol and a range of other substances from a single sample of breath.


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