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A toxicology lab in Los Angeles offers four types of tests: medical, employment, forensic and athletic. Tests measure illegal and legal drugs in the system of the person tested. This is usually done through a urine, blood, or saliva sample, but testers may ask for hair samples as well. In some rare cases, the test may require a sample of sweat or stomach contents.
- Toxicology tests can take days, weeks, or months to process.
- Drugs identified during testing include commonly used substances, such as marijuana, cocaine, and opiates.
With medical testing, doctors could be trying to determine if an unresponsive patient has drugs in their system. The test could show the type of drug taken and the amount. Based on this information, the doctor can choose a treatment plan. Medical toxicology testing is also used before organ transplantation to prevent complications during surgery. Pregnant women may be tested if they have a history of drug abuse so that doctors can better plan post-delivery care.
Many employers require drug testing of potential employees as a condition of being hired. Some also test current employees. Accidents on the job could trigger a drug test, if the company’s insurer requires that information before paying a claim.
Athletic toxicology testing covers legal and illegal drug usage, as well as substances banned by sports governing authorities. These substances that are considered performance enhancing. Sports toxicology testing could be used to detect drug classes such as anabolic agents, beta blockers, and stimulants. Results of athletic toxicology tests could get an athlete removed or banned from a team or sport.
Another type of testing is forensic toxicology, which is done for medical and legal reasons at a toxicology lab in Los Angeles. One aspect is criminal investigations in which test results are used in court proceedings. Test specimens are evidence, which means they are subject to a strict chain-of-custody procedure. Results are received, processed, and maintained, then disposed of according to court standards. Forensic toxicology results are not regulated by law, but results must stand up to legally defensible standards in criminal cases.
Another way forensic toxicology is useful is in postmortem situations, which is done as part of an autopsy to determine the cause of death. During the autopsy, urine, blood and tissue samples of the deceased are collected, which takes 15 or 20 minutes. The blood comes from multiple areas, such as the femoral leg vein and the heart, because the concentration of drugs in the deceased could be different. Comparing drug concentrations from different body parts can increase the accuracy of results. Some deceased have no urine available for collection. Tissue samples come from the kidneys, brain, and liver, as well as the vitreous humor, which is the clear gel in the space between the retina and lens of the eyeball. Testing may come from samples of the stomach contents and bile. Tissue samples are placed in containers designed to prevent contamination. Preservatives may be used to prevent or delay the breakdown of drugs in samples. With forensic testing, a detailed paper trail is established so that each handler of the specimens is known, which reduces the possibility of mix-ups or contamination.
Testing begins with a basic drug screen of urine and blood that uses specific antibodies to detect marijuana, amphetamines and other drugs. If drugs are detected, more sophisticated tests are performed with other techniques, such as mass spectrometry. These techniques identify chemicals by the mass and charge in substances, and they provide the exact concentration of drugs or other substances in the person being tested. Results help experts determine if the amount found is a therapeutic dose or a toxic or lethal one.
Time Sensitive Testing
Testing must be done at a toxicology lab in Los Angeles while the test can still detect drugs in the test subject’s system. This varies from one drug to another and from person to person. Some drugs dissipate in a short time, and others stay in the body much longer. Amphetamines can be detected for up to 48 hours, and morphine, heroin, and codeine are in the system for one or two days. Barbiturates and benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Ativan, are detectable for up to six weeks with heavy usage. Marijuana’s main active chemical is THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is absorbed by the body’s fatty tissues. This allows the drug to be detected for several days after it’s taken, but those using the drug regularly will have traces of it in their system for weeks after they stop using marijuana.