ALS announces optimisation of combined testing for methamphetamine and fentanyl property contamination
In 2011, under contract with the United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), ALS developed method 9111 at its lab in Salt Lake City to assist in the detection of meth contamination. The highly accurate test uses liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) to detect even small traces of meth residue and is now widely regarded as the international reference for collecting and analysing wipe samples for the drug. This method not only helps identify signs of a “meth house” or illegal laboratory, but it can also help identify meth contamination in homes from usage, which can have serious health consequences.
While the 9111 method that ALS helped develop for meth is now publicly available, Jessica Helland, Quality Assurance Manager at ALS in Salt Lake City, points out that ALS didn’t stop there:
‘We keep pushing the method and making modifications to allow us to analyse other drugs,’ she explains. ‘We are constantly using the foundation of the method we developed to find other controlled and illicit substances, listening to our clients’ concerns and continually developing in-house solutions to offer more services.’
For example, soon after method 9111 was published in the National Manual of Analytical Methods (NMAM), ALS developed a modification of the test to identify fentanyl contamination, and a few years later developed a method that combined the testing of meth and fentanyl.
This combined test can be a powerful and cost-effective tool for property inspections, but while widespread awareness of the dangers posed by illegal meth labs has led to growing interest in testing properties for meth, there is less awareness that fentanyl can also present grave potential danger for property buyers. This is because most fentanyl is manufactured outside of the USA and arrives in pill form, so the danger is less from fentanyl manufacture and more from “pill mills” where the drugs are cut for distribution or in properties where fentanyl use has occurred. With both meth and fentanyl, usage alone can contaminate a home and have dire health consequences.
Fentanyl contamination of a property can be particularly deadly. A lethal dose of fentanyl is as little as 2 milligrams. Due to this low-dose lethality and the high-risk of exposure through inhalation, ingestion, or absorption through skin, fentanyl presents a unique threat to law enforcement and first responders. If not cleaned up properly, exposure to miniscule quantities of the drug can lead to serious health effects, including death, especially in young children.
Consider a case a few years ago in Northern California where a man died at home from a fentanyl overdose. A week after his death, a housekeeper lost her life while vacuuming the property. Or consider a recent case in Orange County, California, where drug dealers were caught transporting 20.5 pounds of fentanyl in a minivan. The van contained enough of the drug to kill 4.7 million people.
‘There are a number of states already regulating sites that are contaminated with methamphetamine and are looking to do the same with fentanyl,” explains Jessica Helland, Quality Assurance Manager at ALS in Salt Lake City. ‘And for the most part that is why we test. But here in Utah, it goes further. Home inspectors test almost every property transaction, which is unheard of in most other states.’
Meredith Edwards, ALS project manager in Salt Lake City agrees, ‘When I talk to home inspectors in other states, it's rare for them to even offer testing for methamphetamine and fentanyl,’ she adds. ‘One of our biggest challenges is explaining to people why they need to test property.’
With the number of overdoses from meth and fentanyl in the tens of thousands each year and rising, awareness has grown of the danger of these drugs to users. What needs to follow is a wider awareness of the need for testing properties to find out if they require professional remediation – which may be a literal matter of life or death.
The availability of simple, effective, efficient and affordable testing methods may help convince more home inspectors to offer this service to prospective property buyers, and the team at ALS has been working diligently guided by this hope.
‘We wanted to make sure that we could do this combined testing as quickly and effectively as possible, so we have been working on it, and our analysts are doing amazingly,’ says Helland.
‘Historically, for meth, we've been able to offer a four-day standard turnaround of samples, and I know that's a big factor in our success,’ she explains. ‘We are now finally there with combined meth and fentanyl testing. Not only can we now offer a standard 4-day turnaround time with the combined test, but we can also provide rush options on turnaround in many cases by the next business day.’
Hopefully, more inspections will soon include this test to provide protection and peace of mind for property buyers. The drug epidemic shows no immediate signs of abating, as those involved in the fight, like the testing team at ALS in Salt Lake City, are aware.
‘Meth doesn't decay. It stays on walls forever,’ Helland says. ‘Likewise, fentanyl is very potent. It doesn't take a very large amount to have an effect. And it's absolutely exploding.’
If you are involved in a property transfer and/or want to learn more about testing for meth and fentanyl contamination, please contact the fully available staff of 6 project managers at ALS in Salt Lake City, who will respond promptly, at ALSLT.Project.Managers@alsglobal.com
About ALS Limited
A global leader in testing, ALS provides comprehensive testing solutions to clients in a wide range of industries around the world. Using state-of-the-art technologies and innovative methodologies, our dedicated international teams deliver highest-quality testing services and personalized solutions supported by local expertise. We help our clients leverage the power of data-driven insights for a safer and healthier world.