Drug use fingerprint scans assessed

Scientists are assessing whether a fingerprint scanner could test whether patients are on drugs.

Using the minute amounts of sweat contained in a fingerprint, doctors could test for illegal drugs and prescription medication.

Medics could take a patient's fingerprint using a handheld device and after 10 minutes they will be able to see their recent drug-use history.

The company Intelligent Fingerprinting, founded by academics who used to work at the University of East Anglia, has been awarded a Government grant to improve drug-screening services in hospital accident and emergency and coroners' departments.

It has been awarded £135,000 to research the feasibility of using the technology for drug screening of emergency patients on admission to hospital.

Dr Paul Yates, business development manager at Intelligent Fingerprinting, said: "Many people admitted to A&E are under the influence of drugs - either legally prescribed medicines or drugs of abuse. But in an emergency situation clinicians may be unaware of a patient's medical or drug-use history.

"Without this knowledge there is a risk that medical staff will administer treatment which could be harmful, or even fatal. This situation is made worse if the patient is confused or unable to speak, or elderly and suffering with a condition that affects memory.

"Our technique for detecting the presence of drugs in a person's bloodstream by analysing a simple fingerprint could help doctors to make better informed decisions about appropriate treatments."

The company was given another award to trial the technology for drugs testing by coroners. The project was awarded a £290,000 grant from Biomedical Catalyst, a Government-funded programme operated by the Medical Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board.

Dr Yates added: "It is sometimes necessary to carry out a drug screen to establish how someone has died. This can be a time-consuming and costly process. By working with coroners, we will test the potential of using Intelligent Fingerprinting as a tool to help determine a possible cause of death more quickly and cost effectively."