Source: Philadelphia Inquirer (PA) Contact: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 Author: Marian Uhlman - Inquirer Staff Writer PATCH THAT MIGHT KEEP TABS ON DRUG USE WILL BE TESTED IN PHILA. The device would offer ``real-time'' data, rather than after-the-fact screening. Sweating it out could take on new meaning for drug users caught by the criminal justice system. The federal government is getting ready to field test in Philadelphia a black watch-sized patch that is being designed to send a signal if the wearer takes drugs. It also has the potential to relay information to authorities about the person's whereabouts, within 150 feet. Considering that at least an estimated 50 percent of all defendants nationally test positive for drugs, the patch could make it easier to supervise convicted criminals when they return to their communities. "It could open up a new and possibly foolproof method of monitoring substance abuse," said Saralynn Borrowman, program manager for investigative sciences at the National Institute of Justice, a research agency for the U.S. Department of Justice. Recognizing the close link between drug use and criminal activity, many courts have already beefed up their efforts, requiring felons to enroll in treatment programs and submit to drug tests. If they don't, they can face jail time. Many courts also are monitoring drug users awaiting trial. But such oversight can be costly, time-consuming and faulty, some experts say. The sweat patch offers "real-time" data about drug use, said David A. Kidwell, who is heading the research for the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. Other drug screens, such as hair analysis or urine tests, are "always after the fact" and sometimes "beatable," he said. The patch is built into a band that can be worn on the wrist or the ankle. In concept, the patch will work like this: Say a person takes cocaine. The drug molecules are excreted in sweat. The surface of the patch is coated with a specific antibody that interacts with the cocaine. In the process, the cocaine molecules dislodge colored particles on the patch and the released particles are detected by a built-in sensor. The concept works somewhat like a home pregnancy test, in which a color indicates a positive or negative result. The patch then relays the information to a transmitter similar to a pager - -- or potentially a small cellular or satellite phone -- worn by the person being monitored. In turn, information is forwarded via wireless e-mail to a computer, possibly several states away, identifying who the user is and where he or she is. Kidwell says versions of the patch could be developed for other drugs, such as heroin and amphetamines. In the initial tests to be done in Philadelphia, the patches are designed to detect alcohol use. The aim is to see whether there are technological bugs in the system. Kidwell said he hasn't yet decided how many people will be involved in the testing, though the number will be small. "What we have works," said Kidwell, whose tests so far have been confined to the laboratory with fellow scientists. But, he said, he needs to find out "whether it is easy to use." Among the unknowns are whether the patch will be comfortable for the wearer, if people can beat the system, and how easy it will be to service the patches in the field. The patch is designed to monitor not only drug status, but also skin temperature and whether the patch is in contact with the skin, as a way of checking that it's being worn. Kidwell has been working on the device for about three years under a grant from the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy. For the field tests, he plans to collaborate with the Institute for Addictive Disorders at Allegheny University of the Health Sciences. Initially, Kidwell will track alcohol use among volunteer patients from one or two Allegheny programs. He also plans to have field tests in New Orleans in conjunction with the city's district attorney's office. He projected that it may take another two years before the drug-screening patch is ready for wide-scale use. Jerome Jaffe, who recently headed the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, said the patch might be better at deterring drug use than methods now in use. The key may be the immediacy of getting caught. "People have found that the closer you make the consequences and the behavior, the more likely it is to influence behavior," said Jaffe, now a psychiatry professor at the University of Maryland. But for some, the technology is troubling. "It is like a scarlet letter," said Caroline Cooper, a former public defender, who is director of the drug court clearinghouse at American University. She questions whether such constant monitoring would conflict with the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. "Unless there is some egregious situation that warrants the intrusion, wearing a patch 24 hours a day would bother me," Cooper said.