Making Sure the Device Used for Drug Testing Was Calibrated Properly

Interviewer: Do you look at the machine used to test things in order to make sure that they are properly running and calibrated?

Leckerman: The laboratory has to go through a number of different processes in trying to make sure the instrument is able to identify and quantify particular compounds. There’s a particular process for drugs, which is a different process used to identify the presence and quantify the amount of ethanol in a driver’s system. As I mentioned before, there are certain instruments used. When you are testing for the presence and quantity of ethanol, or alcohol, typically a gas chromatograph is used to detect the presence and quantity of alcohol.

For drugs, laboratories are going to use gas chromatographs or liquid chromatographs with an identification system called mass spectrometer. It’s an extremely complicated process in developing the proper method to identify particular drugs of abuse. Using the method is created, the laboratories will teach the instrument to identify particular compounds that make up the drug of abuse. A library is used to teach the instrument. This library has to be obtained from a reliable source that is known as a NIST traceable source. NIST refers to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

NIST is a government organization that creates particular standards that can be used by any laboratory to teach an instrument to identify a particular drug. The libraries consist of computerized data that are fed into the gas chromatograph, or liquid chromatograph with mass spectrometer and the machine is taught to identify particular compounds that have a certain molecular structure.

You need to find out whether the laboratory is using these NIST-traceable standards. You should know whether the laboratory is properly teaching its instruments to identify these NIST-traceable standards. The laboratory, before each testing run of unknown samples, must calibrate and verify that the machine is working properly before and after unknown samples have been run through it.