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TN: Knoxville to Try Sweat Patch Drug-Test

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Jan.3, 00
Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)
Copyright: 2000, The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
Author: Laura Ayo, News-Sentinel staff writer
It's been described as an oversized Band-Aid that won't fall off when you swim, bathe or sweat. But it's the sweat that means bad news for people who wear it and then do drugs. And soon, federal Pretrial Services officers in Knoxville will know who those people are.
Chief Pretrial Services Officer Carl Papa said his office will begin using a new device called the "sweat patch" in late January to determine whether people awaiting trial for crimes have used drugs while out on bond. He described the patch, manufactured by California-based Pharmchem Laboratories Inc., as looking like a large Band-Aid. "It has a membrane with a special adhesive that allows air to pass through it, but nothing can go into it," Papa explained. The patch can be worn for about 14 days before it loses its adhesive quality, he said. During that time, people will sweat like they normally do, but if they've used cocaine, opiates, marijuana or amphetamines in that period, they'll sweat residues of the drugs into the patch, where the evidence of their drug usage will remain until the patch is removed and sent to a lab for testing. So if the patch is applied on a Sunday, the wearer uses cocaine that night and the patch is removed and sent to a lab the following Thursday, the cocaine usage on Sunday would show up in the lab test. "This is continuous," Papa said. "If it's tampered with, it's real obvious." And Papa hopes those facts will serve as a deterrent, especially for defendants who use drugs while on pretrial release due to peer pressure. "Hopefully, it will make the community a little safer," he said. "If they're wearing the patch, they're going to be less likely to take a chance." Papa said the patch won't replace other drug-testing tools being used by his office now. "It just adds to the tools we use to supervise defendants," he said.
Pretrial Services Officers Gerald Fraylon, Carol Cavin and Twilla Tucker, who routinely administer the drug tests, began wearing the patch Dec. 22 to get firsthand experience about how it works. Papa and U.S. Magistrates Thomas Phillips and Robert Murrian also intend to wear the patch before the district begins using them, Papa said. "After the first of the year, I'm going to look at our total drug population and select the people it will work best with," he said. Defendants living in outlying areas will likely be good candidates for the patch, he explained, since it's more difficult to test them regularly. Papa also expects the patch to be more cost-efficient than other drug-testing methods being used --such as the most popular method, testing urine. Each patch costs $5. The lab test costs an additional $20. A urine test costs between $19 and $26. But they have to be done more frequently, Papa said, while the patch only needs to be sent to the lab about once every two weeks. "At least 50 to 60 percent of the people we deal with are drug-related charges, and most of them are on some sort of monitoring," Papa said.
The urine test indicates someone has tested positive for drugs immediately, while the patch requires a lab send-off to obtain confirmation that someone has used drugs. The results take about a week to obtain. But the urine test only gives pretrial officers a "snapshot in time" look at a person's drug-using habits, Papa said. Although the officers try to test randomly, they can't test every day. The patch decreases health risks to officers having to work with urine samples, he said. Officers who are the same gender as those tested administer the urine tests, but the patch eliminates that factor. The patch also saves time. "There have been times where we waited hours because a person can't urinate," Papa said. Papa said about 40 other districts throughout the country have been using the patch for about a year. Its constitutionality in several of those districts has been upheld by federal courts.
John Gonska, a supervisor for the U.S. Probation Office in Las Vegas, said his district has been using the patch extensively for the past year. "So far, the sweat patch has become a reliable testing instrument," he said. "So far, we're happy with it and have confidence in it." Gonska said the patch is a difficult drug test to beat. And people are always trying to beat them, Gonska and Papa said. "It's proved highly effective," Gonska said. "The results have been significantly higher with the sweat patch than with the urine test." For offenders who have medical conditions which make it difficult to urinate, Gonska described the patch as a "godsend." He said some offenders have complained the patch irritates their skin. Others have complained it falls off. "We're skeptical of that," Gonska said, explaining the offender has more likely manipulated the patch.
Alice Conley, a drug-treatment specialist for the U.S. Probation Office in Memphis, agreed patches that "fell off" were likely tampered with. "It's a rare occasion for it to fall off," she said. Memphis has been using the patch randomly since the summer of 1997, she said. "Our need has been limited," Conley said. "It's been real good for us, the times we have used it." She also agreed the patch has been more effective in certain cases than the urine test. "We don't use it as a tool for locking people up," Conley said. "Its initial purpose is for treatment and intervention and detection." But if the drug usage continues, Conley said incarceration will be recommended. "I feel confident it's going to work well," Papa said.