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USDTL Research

Detection of phosphatidylethanol (PEth) in the blood of drivers in an alcohol ignition interlock program

Paul Marques Therese HanssonAnders IsakssonLisa WaltherJoseph JonesDouglas LewisMary Jones
PMID: 21469020 | PMCID: PMC3077108DOI: 10.1080/15389588.2010.544048
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Objective: The rate of failed interlock blood alcohol content (BAC) tests is a strong predictor of recidivism post-interlock and a partial proxy for alcohol use. Alcohol biomarkers measured at the start of an interlock program are known to correlate well with rates of failed BAC tests over months of interlock use. This study evaluates 2 methods of measuring low blood levels of the biomarker phosphatidylethanol (PEth). PEth is a 100 percent alcohol-specific biomarker and strongly intercorrelated with several independent indicators of drinking driving risk, including 8 other biomarkers, 3 psychometric assessments, and the rate of failed interlock BAC tests during many months of interlock use. Does a more sensitive method of measuring PEth at program entry detect drinking even among those who subsequently log no failed interlock tests?

Methods: In a sample of 281 driver blood samples, PEth was measured by both high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LCMSMS) in order to compare sensitivity and accuracy. The average rate of failed interlock BAC tests was the criterion measure for marker sensitivity. LCMSMS, calibrated to detect low levels of drinking as a possible measure of abstinence violation, was judged relative to the standard HPLC assay for PEth measured up to 4 μmol/L.

Results: The 2 methods showed a good quantitative relationship (r(2)> .86). LCMSMS detected positive PEth levels in samples that were below the limit of detection of the HPLC method. PEth measured by LCMSMS was positive for a higher proportion of driving under the influence (DUI) offenders who logged zero failed interlock BAC tests than were detected by HPLC.

Conclusion: Although HPLC is the widely used standard for measuring PEth in clinical alcoholism samples, the LCMSMS method, when calibrated to detect trace amounts of the major component of PEth, can detect abstinence levels of alcohol near zero intake and still correlate strongly with other indicators related to alcohol use and road safety.

Keywords: Phosphatidylethanol, HPLC, LCMSMS, DUI drivers, Alcohol, Interlocks, Abstinence

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Published by: United States Drug Testing Laboratories on

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