New date rape drug detection method


By Australian Hospital + Healthcare Bulletin Staff
Thursday, 17 August, 2017


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It can be difficult for law enforcement to tell if someone has been given gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), commonly known as a ‘date rape drug’, because it is rapidly absorbed and metabolised by the body. 

Now, scientists report in the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry that they have identified a potential biomarker to detect the compound in tests that could be performed much later than current ones.

When ingested, GHB can make a person groggy or sleepy and can induce amnesia. As a prescription drug, it is used to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder, as well as relieve pain, fatigue and other symptoms of fibromyalgia. But it also has been used as a recreational club drug and has been linked to thousands of sexual assault cases. Current techniques can only detect GHB in the first few hours after ingestion. In addition, they require considerable modifications to the samples that can skew the results or even destroy the evidence.

To address these challenges, researchers from the Centro de Investigacion Principe Felipe of Valencia, King’s College London and Universitat Autonoma of Barcelona wanted to see if they could identify a biomarker for the drug that would stay in urine or blood a lot longer than GHB itself does. They also wanted to find a method that would not require extensive sample manipulation.

The researchers studied samples from a clinical trial in which volunteers received small doses of GHB. Blood and urine samples were taken from trial participants at regular intervals over 30 hours following ingestion. The scientists analysed the samples using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and found that they could detect GHB in urine samples taken up to two hours after ingestion. They also could distinguish GHB from other similar drugs.

Importantly, the researchers found that glycolate, a metabolite of GHB, might be a good biomarker for the drug. They could measure its levels in urine for up to 20 hours after the drug was taken. This finding could form the basis for tests that could be performed much later than current ones. And, because the technique didn’t damage or destroy the samples, further analyses with other methods are possible.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Monkey Business

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