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Table 1 Summary of drug testing technologies and methods, and definition of terms

From: An overview of forensic drug testing methods and their suitability for harm reduction point-of-care services

  Method Discrimination Substances Identify (qualify) Amount (quantify) Destroy sample? Lab Point of care Cost (USD) Ease of use Time required for results
Most discriminatory Mass Spectrometry Virtually any Yes   $5000 (used, older)–200.000+ (new, advanced models)
Plus recurring costs (reagents, servicing)
Intermediate–advanced
(depending on model)
Minutes
Infrared spectrometry Virtually any No $4000 (used, older)–100,000 (new, advanced models)
Portable:
10,000–60,000
Plus recurring costs (licensing, servicing)
Basic–advanced (depending on model) Second to minutes (Inc. Portable)
Raman Spectroscopy Virtually any No $5000 (used, older)–100,000 (new, advanced models)
Portable:
10,000–60,000
Plus recurring costs (licensing, servicing)
Basic–advanced (depending on model) Seconds to minutes (Inc. Portable)
X-ray diffractometry Crystalline (solids) No   $50,000–250,000+
Plus recurring costs (reagents, servicing)
Advanced—expert Minutes to hours
Least discriminatory Thin-layer chromatography Most common drugs of abuse; possibly not some novel psychoactive substances   Yes Initial supplies: $1000–3000
Recurring costs:
$100–1000 per month depending on volume of usage
(bulk reagents)
Basic—intermediate Minutes to hours
Ultraviolet spectroscopy Most common drugs of abuse   No $3000–10,000 Basic—intermediate Minutes
Spot/color tests Most common drugs of abuse; must be already characterized (i.e., possibly not some)   Yes Approximately 2–5 dollars per test (in house)
Recurring costs:
$100–500 per month depending on volume of usage (bulk reagents)
Basic—intermediate Seconds to minutes
Microcrystalline tests Several   Yes Approximately 2–4 dollars per test (in house)
Recurring costs:
$100–500 per month depending on volume of usage (bulk reagents)
Intermediate—advanced Minutes
Immunoassay Various metabolized drugs in urine samples   Yes   $5000–20,000 for initial equipment (analyzer)
Recurring costs:
$300–1000 per month depending on volume of usage (bulk reagents)
Intermediate—advanced Minutes
Urine dipstick test Fentanyl   Yes   Approximately 1–5 dollars per test (in house)
Recurring costs:
$50–400 per month, depending on volume of usage
Basic—intermediate Seconds to minutes
  1. None—requires absolutely no knowledge or training. Basic—requires simple (hours to days) training by someone who knows the technique or theory, but is not an expert in the field, i.e., someone with intermediate, advanced, or expert skill/knowledge. Intermediate—requires a higher level of knowledge or skill, although that may be obtained from either following previous instructions obtained (i.e., gaining experience) while a basic user, or from further instruction from an advanced or expert level user. Usually requires days to weeks of experience depending on technique. Advanced—requires some college or university level theory or experience. Usually taught directly or indirectly by an expert in the subject/field. Occasionally, an intermediate user may become advanced without advanced education through diligence and interest. Requires weeks to months (a typical semester). Expert—an expert in the area, almost always has post-secondary education related to the field. May be a bachelor, master, or PhD holder or very high specialized training. Instruction may also be provided by someone from a device manufacturing company who provides a seminar or some sort of direct training in usage of a technique or device. Typically always requires months to years depending on difficulty of the subject