City Hospitals Committed to Drug Usage Detection, Treatment

Article excerpt

President Reagan set the tone by offering up a sample in a bottle, thereby launching officially the latest federal drive to curb the misuse of drugs, whether legal or illegal. In this campaign, however, the emphasis clearly is on illegal substances.

The president may not have been aware of it, but Oklahomans have been waging a war for some time against the menace of drug abuse. Every major hospital in Oklahoma City has committed certain of itsresources to the task of detecting harmful drug usage, and beyond that, to rehabilitation. Kicking the habit, if you will.

At St. Anthony Hospital, the heat was turned up recently with some additional high tech instruments designed to strengthen the hands devoted to drug testing. At the same time, the hospital is taking steps to make mass screening and treatment more accessible to Oklahoma City employers and their work forces.

Dr. T.W. Violett, the director of clinical pathology at St. Anthony, and Dr. Mike Fowler, a chemist in charge of drug screening, appear ready to toss the net in a wider circle as they try to persuade more and more people to take full advantage of the resources now available.

The newest pearl: a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, a $100,000 piece of automated equipment with the capacity to screen up to 30 patient samples an hour.

Fowler describes it as a device for basic screening. But there are other "more labor intensive steps" in the drug tracking process.

With the tools at hand, the technologists at St. Anthony even can identify as many as 120 drugs or chemical agents detected in mass screening. This process, in the simplest terms, involves a computerized match.

What next?

"With it (the mass spectrometer), we will try to offer business a complete program for employees and potential employees," said Violett. "The use of drugs may endanger people in the work place, andcompanies need to take a serious look at it. We see a lot of it here."

Invariably, talk of mass screening raises an element of concern about the accuracy of testing. Will a false positive finding unfairly tar someone and result in an unjust firing and possible long-term economic damage or, in extreme cases, end with a criminal prosecution?

No one can say with absolute certainty that every test would yield a perfect result. But fears of a reckless drug testing system running amok are groundless. In fact, the testing protocols in use today are reasonably sound.

Fowler asks the important question: How good is the methodology? …