Toxicology – a look back in time

British Science Week is a good week to look at the science of Toxicology.  Toxicology is the branch of science that relates to poisons. Many ancient texts were written about plant toxins and the use of poisons, but it [more]

The effects of recreational drugs on the heart

As the month of love ends, it’s a good time to think about the effects that recreational drugs have on the heart. We tend to focus more often on the immediate effects of recreational drug use and the risks that those [more]

Winter ills – the risks to workplace safety

Many of us have been struggling of late with coughs and colds, and some even with flu. We are fortunate that we have access to a wide range of over-the-counter preparations to help alleviate the symptoms caused by these [more]

Coping with alcohol dependence at Christmas

As we work to support individuals in the Family Court system who have alcohol dependence issues, it’s interesting to read several recent articles about the challenges those with alcohol dependence face at [more]

How much could a drug and alcohol policy be worth to your business?

With the cost of replacing a member of staff in the region of £30,000, many employers see that ensuring employee wellbeing is a worthwhile area in which to invest. This helps to enhance employee retention and create a [more]

Testing and Treatment – Partners in Recovery

The UK government’s Drug Strategy 2017 published in July includes an objective focused on supporting those with a drug dependence at all stages of their recovery. The strategy highlights the role that drug testing plays in [more]

New Psychoactive Substances – What’s all the fuss about?

NPS - What's all the fuss about?

Have you heard about New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) in the news and wondered what they are and how they may affect Maritime Organisations – read on to find out!

What are NPS?

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are marketed as alternatives to controlled drugs and claim to deliver similar effects to ‘traditional’ drugs.1 They have been around for some time and are often referred to as ‘legal highs’, ‘herbal highs’, ‘bath salts’ or ‘research chemicals’. They differ massively in terms of their effects, how they are used and their history.2

How prevalent are NPS?

According to the UNODC over 100 countries and territories from all over the world have reported one or more NPS, and their Early Warning Advisory received reports of over 600 substances by December 2015.3 Within Europe, there has been a huge increase in the number, type and availability of NPS over the past five years, with 101 new substances being reported for the first time to the EU Early Warning System in 2014. Synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones are the largest groups of NPS monitored by the EMCDDA, reflecting the demand for cannabis and stimulants in Europe.4

It is unclear if the large numbers of NPS that have emerged in recent years are displacing existing drugs under international control, or if there is diversification of the range of synthetic drugs available. A growing number of countries have been reporting a wide range of emerging NPS, in addition to worrying developments like injecting NPS. While generally there are a large number of NPS available across the globe, there are still big differences between countries and regions in terms of patterns of what is being found.1

The majority of countries and territories that reported the emergence of NPS up to December 2014 were from Europe (39), Asia (27), Africa (14), the Americas (13) and Oceania (2). They continue to expand their reach as four new countries or territories, the Cayman Islands (Americas), Montenegro (Europe), Peru (Americas) and Seychelles (Africa), reported NPS for the first time in 2014.1

How are NPS used?

Global data on the use of NPS are limited for various reasons, one of these being the large number available and the other is the variety of names, including street names, which are being used. In a lot of cases users cannot identify the substance they are using, so finding information from other sources is the only option. The information that has been coming from the early warning systems has helped to identify the use of NPS and associated health risks at an early stage.1

Legal Status of NPS

As they are not controlled under the International Drug Control Conventions, NPS legal status can vary from country to country as they try to tackle the problem they pose. Over 50 countries had implemented legal responses to control NPS, up to mid-2015. At an international level the Commission on Narcotic Drugs placed 10 NPS under international control in March 2015. These control measures have to be implemented into the national legal framework of each country.3 Producers stay in the market by rapidly developing and introducing new substances, each time they anticipate legal and regulatory controls for current substances.

What are the risks with NPS?

NPS use is often linked to health problems, including hospitalisation with sever intoxications. Synthetic cannabinoids use has also been linked to a number of unexplained suicides. There have also been a number of unexplained suicides and mephedrone like substances have been associated with fatalities.6 The EMCDDA expect that NPS will continue to throw up challenges for public health and drug policy over the next few years as they continue to appear quickly, are very readily available and have limited information on their effects and harms.4

What can I do about this as a Maritime Organisation?

Treating them like traditional drugs of abuse, in terms of continuing to discourage Crew to use them in the interim is advisable. There are some tests available for NPS; however they are limited at the moment. Alere Toxicology has been carrying out extensive research into this area of testing and will be announcing some new testing methods soon, watch this space for an update!

Further reading and content sources

  1. UNODC World Drug Report 2015
  2. UNODC Early Warning Advisory on NPS
  3. UNODC Early Warning Advisory on NPS – What are NPS?
  4. EMCDDA NPS in Europe – An Update from the EU Early Warning System, March 2015
  5. EMCDDA EU Drug Markets Report – In-Depth Analysis, 2016
  6. UNODC NPS Leaflet
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Posted in Drug News, Drug Testing, General News, Legal Highs, Maritime Solutions | Leave a comment

Global and Regional Drug Trends


As a Maritime Organisation that works internationally, employing multi-national Crews and travelling across international trading routes, it is hard to stay up to date with global drug use trends. However the safety of your vessels and crews can be improved by taking into account regional variations. Why not read our summary of Global and Regional Drug Use Trends, so you can see quickly and simply the information that may affect you.

Global Facts & Trends

  • Around 246 million, or 1 in 20 people, aged between 15 and 64, used an illicit drug in 2013 – an increase of 3 million from the previous year.1
  • Around 27 million, or 1 in 10 drug users, are problem drug users.1
  • An estimated 12.19 million drug users inject drugs. Three countries, the Russian Federation, China and the USA, account for nearly 50% of that figure.1
  • Around 6.3 million injecting drug users had hepatitis C and 1.65 million had HIV in 2013.1

Regional Drug Use

Globally as you can see there are millions of drug users, however regional use can vary massively between ‘continents’ and on a country by country basis. We’ve broken the information down into regions so you can easily see the information that is available and relevant to you.

Jump to region: Asia | Europe | The Americas | Middle East & Africa | Oceania

Asia Drug Use


Increasing Use

  • Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) use is increasing, including ecstasy1 and methamphetamine, in East and South East Asia.2
  • Methamphetamine remains the most popular drug in Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea2 and use is rising in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.3
  • Opiate use in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan is among the highest worldwide, at an average of 1.5% of the adult population, nearly four times the global prevalence rate.3

High Use

  • Opiate users total 16.5 million worldwide, two thirds are in Asia.1 Opiates, mainly heroin, is the most used drug in China, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Vietnam.2 There are an estimated 3.15 million injecting drug users in East and South-East Asia, this is a quarter of worldwide users.1
  • Cannabis is the most commonly used drug in Pakistan, with an annual prevalence of 3.6%.3

Other Facts

  • In Asia the number of people accessing treatment for cannabis-use disorders is small, but the proportion of first-time entrants (62%) is the largest. Compared with other regions, cannabis users in treatment are typically in their twenties, in Asia they are typically in their thirties.1
  • Cannabis is the most prevalent drug used in Indonesia.2
  • Within Nepal the main drugs used are domestically cultivated cannabis and opium.3
  • Methamphetamine use within Pakistan is very low when compared to other substances in the region; its use was detected for the first time only recently.3
  • The Maldives, in comparison to neighbouring countries, has low prevalence of illicit drug use. Cannabis resin, opioids, and alcohol are the most commonly used substances.3
  • India has an estimated 10.7 million drug users, 8.7 million for cannabis and 2 million for opiates.4

Europe Drug Use


Increasing Use

  • Heroin use is increasing within Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Europe is 1 of 2 regions where the majority of treatment admissions are for opiate use.1
  • Cannabis is the most widely consumed drug in Western, Central and South East Europe.5,6 It’s estimated retail value is more than €9 billion per year, with over 22 million annual users, making it the largest drug market in Europe.7
  • Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) use is increasing in South East Europe.6 Methamphetamine use is increasing within Europe1 and it has recently been reported in Finland, Norway and Sweden.5
  • New psychoactive substances (NPS) use is increasing in West and South East Europe. In September 2013, the European Commission reported that “more than 2 million people in Europe… are taking pills or powders that are sold to them as ‘legal’… Every week, one new substance is detected somewhere in the EU…”.5
  • Legal highs use rocketed in Romania in 2009 and have reportedly replaced heroin in Bucharest between 2010-2012, with increasing injection rates.6

High Use

  • Within Europe the proportion of first-time treatment entrants for cannabis-use disorders is high.1
  • Cocaine is the most commonly used stimulant in Europe. High prevalence of use is mostly within Western and Southern Member States7 with use in South East Europe remaining stable.6  Western Europe has the largest cocaine market after North America.5 In Europe the cocaine market has expanded in the last decade and is the second most popular controlled drug after cannabis,5  with a retail market estimated to be worth €5.7 billion per year.7
  • High levels of heroin use have been reported within Western European Countries including Ireland, Luxembourg, Italy and Malta.5
  • 91 million injecting drug users reside in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, 24% of the global total.1 Italy has the highest number of people who inject drugs in Western Europe, with over 326,000 users, followed by the UK and France, each with over 120,000 users.5
  • In Estonia synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and buprenorphine, are reported to have displaced the use of opioids, such as heroin (a semi-synthetic).8
  • Similar to this the Russian authorities have reported that desomorphine (known as ‘krokodil’), acetylated opium and fentanyl have been used as substitutes for heroin.8

Other Facts

  • Heroin use is decreasing in Western and Central Europe, while opioid use remains stable within South East Europe.1,6 The EMCDDA estimate that heroin is still a large market worth €6.8 billion per year.7 There are an estimated 1.5 million European opioid users.1 Within Western Europe countries reporting low heroin use are the Czech Republic, Germany, and Spain, among others but that heroin is the main opiate consumed in the region.5
  • Cannabis is the largest European drug market (38%), followed by heroin (28%) and cocaine (24%). The estimated retail market for cannabis is at least €24 billion a year.1
  • Ecstasy use appears to be decreasing in several European countries, with mephedrone and other NPS perhaps serving as a substitute.1 The market for amphetamines is estimated to be worth at least €1.8 billion per year and €0.67 billion for ecstasy.7
  • Within South East Europe the illicit use of sedatives and tranquilizers is common in several countries, such as Romania.6

The Americas Drug Use


Increasing Use

  • Illicit drug use is increasing in the USA, 24.6 million people aged 12 plus, 9.4% of the population, had used an illicit drug in the past month in 2013, an 8.3% increase since 2002. Drug use among people in their fifties and early sixties is also increasing.9
  • Both cannabis and methamphetamine use is increasing in North America.1 In both Canada and the USA lifetime use of cannabis is over 40%, much higher than in South America. Chile and Uruguay have higher use rates within the South American countries, where lifetime use of cannabis is around 20%.10
  • Non-medical prescription opioids use is rising in Canada, as is injecting use, replacing heroin as the most commonly injected drug in some cities. They are now the fourth most prevalent form of substance use behind alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis, with 500,000 to 1.25 million users, surpassing heroin and cocaine in prevalence.11
  • The new psychoactive substances (NPS) market in the USA and Canada is one of the largest and most diversified in the world, with reports almost quadrupling between 2010 and 2013. Synthetic cannabinoids made up 31% of the total NPS market in 2013, followed by synthetic cathinones at 24% and phenethylamines at 22%.10
  • Ketamine; a 2010 survey in Argentina, on general population drug use, showed a lifetime prevalence for those aged 12‐65 of 0.30%, higher than the rate for opiates (0.07%) and prescription stimulants (0.05%). In Uruguay, a similar survey in 2011 showed lifetime use at 0.60%, higher than lifetime use of methamphetamine (0.20%), opioids (0.18%) and prescription stimulants (0.03%). Costa Rica, Chile and Colombia see similar rates of ketamine use.10

High Use

  • Opioid use remains high, 3.8% in relation to the global average in North America, where there are 2.07 million injecting drug users, 17% of the global total.1
  • Cannabis is the most widely used drug in the Caribbean.12 Within North America, the proportion of first-time entrants for cannabis-use disorders is high. 1
  • Ecstasy past year use is always higher among men than women in the Americas, excluding Belize where the difference in use between genders is minimal.10
  • South America has one of the world’s largest cocaine markets.

Other Facts

  • Drug use is low in the Caribbean, excluding cannabis and cocaine. Injecting drug use is rare in the region with the exception of the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico.12
  • Ecstasy use appears to be decreasing in the Americas, seizures dropped by 81% between 2009 and 2012.1 However in terms of lifetime prevalence, rates are higher in the USA (6.8%) and Canada (5.3%) than South American Countries such as Uruguay (1.5%), Colombia and Barbados (0.7%), Venezuela (0.6%), Belize (0.5%) and Chile (0.4%).10
  • Cocaine use continues to decline in North America, data from the USA shows a drop in cocaine use in the general population between 2002 and 2013, from 2.5% to 1.6%.1,10 The expansion of the cocaine market in the 1980s and the Caribbean’s location on the shipping route, created a rapid increase in cocaine dependence within this region.12
  • Heroin has been present in Mexico, the USA and Canada for some time, and appeared to be confined to those countries; however, recently a few countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have reported heroin use.10
  • 2013 statistics show that 6.5 million Americans aged 12 or over, that’s 2.5% of the population; had used prescription drugs non-medically in the past month.4

Middle East and Africa Drug Use


Increasing Use

  • Cannabis use is high and increasing in West, Central1 and North Africa.5 It is the most widely used drug on the subcontinent, with use in Africa being is much higher than the global average, 5.2-13.5% of the population aged 15-64.13
  • Methamphetamine use in Iran and Israel14 has risen and significantly so in South Africa in 2000s.13
  • Opioids, amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), and cocaine use has been increasing in North Africa since 2012.14
  • Opioids, ATS, methamphetamines, cocaine, stimulants, and prescription medicines (notably tramadol) are on the rise in the Middle East. 14
  • Cocaine, cannabis, tranquilizers, and sedatives use is increasing in Algeria, and cocaine and opiates in Morocco.14

High Use

  • Khat use is particularly high in East African countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland, Uganda and Madagascar.13
  • Cocaine use is high in West, Central and Southern Africa.13
  • Heroin use is high along the East African coast (Kenya, Mauritius, Seychelles and the United Republic of Tanzania). The practice of injecting heroin is increasing in Sub-Saharan Africa.13 Egypt has the highest use of heroin in North Africa, as well as a high demand for cannabis.14
  • Cannabis use is prominent throughout North Africa.14
  • Captagon tablets are in high demand in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria.14

Other Facts

  • ATS use is spreading to other areas of Africa such as Cape Verde, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria.13
  • Opium smoking is a traditional practice in some Middle Eastern countries, such as Iran and Iraq.14
  • The emergence of new psychoactive substances (NPS) use, particularly synthetic cannabinoids, has been reported in the Middle East and in Egypt. However, apart from Egypt, NPS use is relatively low in the region.14

Oceania Drug Use


Increasing Use

  • Cannabis use is increasing in Oceania and continues to be high;1 the IDPC state that it’s high compared to other regions in the world, at 9.1% to 14.6% of the population aged 15–64.15
  • Cocaine use increased from 1.4%-1.7% in 2009 to 1.5%-1.9% in 2010; mainly reflecting increased use in Australia and New Zealand.1

High Use

  • Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) use rates are high (1.7%-2.4%), both for ecstasy (2.9%) and amphetamines (2%-2.8%).15
  • Opiate use is estimated annually to be 2.3%-3.4%; this is higher than the global average. Prescription opioids are used more than illicit heroin.15
  • Within Oceania the proportion of first-time entrants for cannabis-use disorders is high.1

Other Facts

  • Oceania’s annual drug use, excluding heroin, remains much higher than the global average.15
  • There are significant numbers of people who inject drugs in Australia (149,591) and New Zealand (20,163), with opioids being the most commonly injected.15

If you would like to discuss how regional trends might be affecting your Crew please contact our sales team via or call +44 (0)2077 128 000.

 Sources / Further Reading:

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Is Transdermal Alcohol Testing the Future?


Since the SCRAM alcohol testing bracelet was introduced to the UK in 2012 it has gone from strength to strength. The recent headline “Sobriety tags’ rollout as 92% comply in pilot scheme” provides insight into the latest use for the SCRAM bracelet and a further stamp of approval for use in court.

As many of you may be aware, transdermal testing is not new to Family Law Courts – to the point that it was written into the Legal Aid Guidance on the Remuneration of Expert Witnesses. With the change in Legal Aid in England and Wales, and the ever tightening purse strings, this just goes to show what a useful tool it has been to the Family Law Courts.

Now it is also going to be available within London for courts to be able use with offenders whose crimes were influenced by alcohol. This follows a pilot scheme in south London boroughs, which found that 92% of the 113 people that had worn the SCRAM bracelet did not drink. This new initiative is being funded by the Ministry of Justice and the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, Magistrates are expected to use SCRAM as an alternative to sentencing offenders to unpaid work.

So what is transdermal alcohol testing?

Just in case you’ve not heard of it, Transdermal Alcohol Testing involves wearing SCRAM, a tamper-evident ankle bracelet, that tests for alcohol through the skin, to show the frequency and pattern of alcohol consumption. The samples are taken automatically by the bracelet every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, leaving no room to miss testing whilst being worn. What’s more it is able to provide evidence of abstinence for court orders of that kind.

If you’d like to learn more about SCRAM and Transdermal Alcohol Testing why not read the case study on our website?

Related Reading:
BBC news article

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Meet the Expert: Stephen Ramsay

Meet the expert- Stephen Ramsey. MLPWEB0139

How did you get into drug testing?
After completing a BSc in Applied Biology at Kingston University, my first job was at LGC Teddington where I was part of the team testing urine samples for drugs of abuse. At this time, gas chromatography with mass spectrometry was the primary method used to confirm the presence of drugs and drug metabolites in urine samples.

Did you have any other jobs before moving to TrichoTech?
I moved to The Horseracing Forensic Laboratory (HFL) in Fordham near Newmarket in Cambridgeshire in 1998. At that time, HFL was a laboratory operation owned by the Horserace Betting Levy Board that primarily provided drugs testing for doping control in the equine and canine sports sectors. I was initially involved in the routine testing of competition animals. During my employment I was also involved in a two year development project that looked at increasing the sensitivity of drugs testing and prohibited substances detection in humans resulting in the company achieving accreditation to WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) standards. At that time there was only one other laboratory accredited to this standard in the UK and fewer than thirty five in the world.

When and how did you first start working for Alere Toxicology?
In 2005 I joined TrichoTech to take up a positon testing and reporting drugs in hair. Prior to this time I had worked primarily in the field of urine and blood testing and so I saw hair testing as a new challenge. Since the inception of TrichoTech in 1993, hair testing had grown significantly and the company was looking for experienced personnel in drugs testing.

How long have you been working with this company?
I joined TrichoTech over 11 years ago. TrichoTech was acquired by Concateno in 2007, Concateno then became a subsidiary of Alere Inc and was then rebranded to Alere Toxicology in 2013. I am currently the Reporting Manager and I am responsible for a team of Toxicologists based in Cardiff.

What does a Toxicologist do at Alere Toxicology?
A Toxicologist is responsible for interpreting the analytical results of drugs and alcohol markers testing and reporting the findings in a way that can be understood by a court. We take into account any medication or previously known drug usage or declared history of the donor. In some cases we are required to attend court to provide further information as expert evidence. We are not restricted geographically as court cases can be anywhere in the country. However in most cases, our detailed reports are sufficient to answer any questions that the court may have. When in court the questions asked by solicitors, barristers or the Judge are to assist in the outcome. Besides family law cases, we can also be required to give evidence at civil hearings, criminal hearings and employment tribunals.

What do you like about your job?
The philosophy of our company is ‘Behind every test is a life’. I really appreciate that with each result that we issue, we are assisting courts in the decision making process, which can have significant outcomes for the individuals involved.

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Posted in Family Law, Substance Misuse | Leave a comment

5 benefits of using oral fluid laboratory testing


There are various methods of drug testing available. These can differ by sample type, analytes available, instant or laboratory testing – it can be confusing! Some of our customers choose to use instant testing over a laboratory service. With this in mind we have listed the benefits of using oral fluid laboratory testing.

  1. Simple collection without the need for specialist facilities

The benefit of using oral fluid is that a sample collection does not require the special facilities needed for a urine sample. The collection can be easily supervised thus decreasing the likelihood of sample adulteration.

  1. Quality assured accredited services

Drug testing laboratories should be regularly audited against ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standards to demonstrate their competence to carry out tests using laboratory-developed methods. This accreditation is awarded in the UK by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).  You can check a laboratory’s Schedule of Accreditation by going to the UKAS website.

  1. A wider range of tests available

Laboratory testing offers more analytes than those available for instant testing. A good laboratory will also be able to differentiate between illicit drugs and prescribed medications.

  1. Same day turnaround for negative samples

State of the art laboratories are able to provide same-day reporting for negative screening tests. They will also be able to consistently and accurately screen high volumes of samples.

  1. Confirmation testing providing unequivocal identification of drugs

Positive screening tests can go straight to confirmation for unequivocal identification of a drug. This will differentiate between prescription and illicit drugs. For example a positive screening test for opiates could be from the illicit use of heroin or over the counter codeine.

Who is Alere Toxicology?

Alere Toxicology provides legally defensible drug testing and can be relied upon to help you make informed decisions. Our laboratories were among the first in the UK to provide a laboratory based oral fluid testing service, which we have been providing for over 13 years. Our validated laboratory methods for oral fluid are accredited to ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standards by UKAS and cover a comprehensive range of analytes.

Since the beginning of 2012 we have analysed over 1 million oral fluid samples. We have a rapid turnaround time of one day for samples that screen negative. The results of 99.5% of these samples were reported back on the same day they arrived at the laboratory.

Alere Toxicology are able to offer services that not all laboratories can. For example, our laboratory- developed technique can be used to distinguish between street amphetamine and pharmaceutical amphetamine. A 6-MAM (6-monoacetylmorphine) screening test is available. This is more specific than a general opiate screen when checking for heroin use because 6-MAM is the unique marker of heroin use.

We employ qualified, experienced and committed industry experts, all of whom integrate around a single binding philosophy that ‘behind every test is a life’. This gives you confidence in the process of testing and allows you to focus your attention on making effective use of the results.

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Posted in Accreditation, Drug Testing, Workplace Solutions | Leave a comment