Introducing intelligent fingerprinting – better, safer drug testing

20 May 2020
By Vicki Markiewicz - Executive Director

Vicki Markiewicz is one of Change Grow Live’s Executive Directors. Here, she explains how fingerprint drug testing works, and how it’s helping us support people during the coronavirus pandemic.

What is intelligent fingerprint testing?

Intelligent fingerprint testing is a new way we can carry out our standard drug testing. It makes testing a much easier and more pleasant experience for staff and services users, especially while we’re all following social distancing.  

When someone comes to us for support and is about to begin medically assisted treatment, we need to know what drugs people have taken. That way, we can make sure we’re prescribing appropriately and not putting service users at risk. Until now, we’ve been doing this with mouth swabs or urine tests, but intelligent fingerprinting is a lot simpler.

With fingerprint testing, you just place your fingers on a plastic cartridge. The cartridge doesn’t record your fingerprint, it just collects a small sweat sample that can then be read in a machine in order to run the test The testing takes around ten minutes, and people have told us it’s a much nicer experience than having to give a sample of saliva or urine.

The story behind fingerprint testing

A few years ago we were approached by the scientists behind fingerprint testing to ask if we would help them test the technology. They sent some of their scientists over a number of months to our Aspire Recovery Service in Peterborough to run their own tests alongside ours to ensure the technology worked.

At first the test was set up for amphetamine, opiates, cocaine and cannabis, but through close working with Change Grow Live, they were able to develop the technology to respond to the need for clinical safety testing. The tests now include methadone, opiates, buprenorphine and benzodiazepines. We piloted clinical safety testing at Spectrum Drug & Alcohol Recovery Service in Stevenage, and people really liked it. The people receiving support from the service liked that it was less invasive and more discreet, and staff liked that it was quick, easy, and didn’t create loads of clinical waste.

Another big benefit is that you can do the test anywhere. You can come into the service and get tested right then and there, or you can use the plastic strip out and about and then run the test at the service.

Solving the challenges of coronavirus

Because fingerprint testing pilots have been a success, we began to think about how we could roll it out across Change Grow Live services. While we were working out the best way forward, the coronavirus pandemic changed everything.

We saw a clear opportunity for using this technology to test people who are new to treatment, in response to social distancing and shielding. In these challenging times, it was not an option, or advisable, to test people using ‘normal’ methods. We’ve already changed the way we prescribe medication to make things safer for people, but in order to reduce risk, there might still be a need to test people.  Fingerprint testing solves lots of the challenges we were faced with.

People who need a test to get their medication can now come into the service, or be tested in the community, give their sample, have it tested, and be following social distancing the whole time. That makes it much safer for staff and for people being tested.

We are intending to implement fingerprint testing across our services, and we’re rolling it out in phases to make sure that happens smoothly. We’ll start with 50 sites across our clinical services, then roll it out more in two waves over the coming weeks, until all our clinical sites in England have the equipment.

I’m a big believer that we should always be looking for new technologies and ideas that will help people who use our services. Even in a world without coronavirus, we’d still want to be using fingerprint testing, but it’s also a really useful way of overcoming the challenges of the pandemic.