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Forensic Sci Int. 1993 Dec;63(1-3):175-84.

Analytical requirements, perspectives and limits of immunological methods for drugs in hair.

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Clinical Biochemistry Laboratory, Cà Granda Niguarda Hospital, Milan, Italy.


The analytical requirements for analysis of drugs in hair are sensitivity in the range of picograms per milligram of hair, specificity for lipophilic drugs and absence of matrix effects with hair digests. These requirements are met by immunoassays which are also inexpensive, rapid and easy to use. However, in applying immunoassays to hair testing, certain limitations of the assay and of interpretation of assay results should be kept in perspective. These limitations are illustrated in this review with examples of the analysis of opiates in hair from patients and opiate addicts. The first requirement for immunological analysis of hair digests is that the digest must not denature the antibody proteins of the immunoassay reagents. For this reason enzymatic digests are better for immunological assay than chemical digests. Strongly acidic or alkaline digests must be brought to a neutral pH before immunoassay. Immunoassays used for analysis of hair should be calibrated with spiked hair digest standards to correct for possible matrix effects. The second requirement is that the immunoassay have the sensitivity and specificity to detect the drug in hair. Drugs of abuse are found in hair in the range of 10 pg-10 ng/mg hair. Radioimmunoassays are capable of detection and quantitation in this concentration range. Although the mechanism of drug incorporation into hair is not known, it is now apparent that primarily the parent drug and lipophilic metabolites are found in hair. For example, the ratio of cocaine/benzoylecgonine averages 10 (range 2-50) in published reports of analysis of hair from cocaine users. Therefore, immunoassays which are highly sensitive for the parent drug are required and results of immunoassays should be expressed as equivalents. When spiking standards for calibration of hair digest immunoassays, parent drug known to be present in hair should be used, e.g. cocaine not benzoylecgonine. With immunoassays which are specific for the lipophilic metabolite found in hair such as 6-MAM, differential radioimmunoassay can be used to discriminate between medical and illicit sources for the opiate drugs found in hair. Because of the low concentrations of drugs encountered in hair, immunoassays for hair have been used at cutoff concentrations at their limits of detection. The limit of detection (LOD) has been determined by calculating the mean and standard deviation (S.D.) for the assay response for a number of negative hair samples. The cutoff was then set at a distance of 2, 3, or 5 S.D.s from the mean response.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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