National drug testing and medication monitoring company Dominion Diagnostics has launched new, more sensitive, and more relevant testing to detect synthetic cathinones or "bath salts" in urine. Designed by Dominion's Research and Development team, the test will detect five synthetic cathinones: mephedrone, 3,4-methylendioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), methylone, butylone, and ethylone. The testing, performed by liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry in Dominion's laboratory, is available to providers across the United States.
Synthetic cathinones, presently (and falsely) marketed as "bath salts," "plant food," and "research chemicals" are derivatives of cathinone, the main psychoactive component of the khat (Catha edulis) plant of eastern Africa. Native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, the chewing of khat leaves has a long history as a social custom, dating back thousands of years.
Today, bath salts have emerged as common street drugs producing stimulant effects similar to the structurally related amphetamine class of drugs. Other reported effects include severe agitation, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, paranoia, symptoms of psychosis (including hallucinations and delusions), and overheating of the body. Due to these effects, the drug has been implicated in stories of users removing their clothing, grizzly "zombie-like" attacks, and numerous other psychotic types of behavior.
In 2011, the American Association of Poison Control Centers recorded over 6,000 phone calls related to bath salts; 20 times the number recorded in 2010. As a result of this alarming growth, in 2011 the Drug Enforcement Agency used its emergency scheduling authority to temporarily add mephedrone, MDPV, and methylone to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Subsequently, the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 permanently added several types of synthetic drugs to Schedule I, including mephedrone and MDPV.
While banning drug use through federal regulations is effective in many cases, it often merely delays the inevitable spread of designer drugs. Illicit drug labs work to get past these bans by slightly altering chemical structures to create new compounds that deliver the same high to users. As new synthetic cathinones become available, Dominion Diagnostics plans to keep pace, routinely changing the type and number of compounds detected in its assay to be the most relevant for providers monitoring drugs of abuse.
"One of our main goals in Research and Development is to offer quality drug testing services that are clinically relevant to today's drug use trends," said Matthew J. Woodcock, Ph.D., MBA, Dominion's Director of Research and Development. "The introduction of this new testing capability is an example of our commitment to advancing patient care and promoting patient safety through accurate diagnostic solutions."