Trial aims to halt deviation from drug rehabilitation

British technology is to be at the forefront of a European project to help people break their addiction to opiates such as heroin.

The €1m project aims to develop improved patient management tools to assist with the delivery of more cost-effective and convenient opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes.

Opioid substitution treatment involves the prescription of a regular dose of an opioid replacement such as buprenorphine or methadone. The oral medications are longer lasting and less euphoric than opioid drugs and suppress a patient’s craving for heroin.

Norwich-based Intelligent Fingerprinting is taking part in the two-year Eurostars programme, which involves Addoz, a Finnish healthcare technology company, and the University of Eastern Finland.

Dr Paul Yates, business development manager at Intelligent Fingerprinting explained that OST patients have been known to sell their methadone for heroin and it is for this reason that they must attend a clinic, pharmacist or GP to be observed taking their medication.

OST patients must also be observed when providing regular urine samples, which are tested in an expensive and time-consuming process, to verify adherence to a drug rehabilitation programme.

Intelligent Fingerprinting will provide its portable immunoassay antibody-based technology that analyses fingerprint sweat for metabolites which indicate the ingestion of certain drugs.

The technology offers advantages over blood, saliva or urine sampling in that it does not require the need for invasive samples and doesn’t present biohazard risks or cross reactivity with other substances in the samples.

‘We can take a fingerprint sample from an individual in a clinical environment and give that test back almost instantaneously – there’s no wasted time waiting for a sample result.’ said Dr Yates. ‘The challenge for us is finding a way to configure our device to detect the metabolites of buprenorphine and methadone in addition to detecting heroin.’

Once configured, project colleagues in Finland will then start collecting fingerprints from volunteers who currently provide urine samples. Clinical trials will then commence with a view to working with Addoz to move screening into the homes of OST patients.

Buprenorphine or methadone has to be taken at a specific time everyday – or depending on the OST patient’s dosage regime – a scenario suited to Addoz’s Med-o-Wheel secure drug dispensing products.

Dr Yates said: ‘If we could have a device that would only dispense the drug at a certain time – and we could monitor whether somebody had actually taken their drugs through the fingerprint test – then that would enable us to remotely monitor what they were doing and have some degree of control…if an alarm comes up that they’re taking something they shouldn’t be, or they’re not taking prescribed medication, then they’d be called back into the clinic.’

Dr Yates added that the project would address issues related to security of wireless signals sent from the home to the clinic.

‘That’s why we’ve included Addoz, they have experience with these sorts of devices and communication methods. It’s a massive issue and one we’ll need to look at.’