App developed to test legitimacy of euthanasia drugs

A controversial assisted dying advocate has used new mobile infra-red spectrometer technology to create an app to test the purity of euthanasia drugs.

The development of the app, first reported by i News, uses the small Israeli-developed, smartphone-linked device SCiO, which uses near infra-red spectroscopy to scan items to detect their molecular makeup.

The device is currently being used to detect fake antimalarial drugs.

According to Dr Philip Nitschke (pictured), director of assisted dying advocacy group Exit International, the device and app will allow people to quickly scan euthanasia drugs, such as Nembutal (pentobarbital), to test their purity and whether the drugs are genuine.

Such assisted dying drugs are often bought online from overseas and Nitschke said there were growing concerns about the quality of the drugs bought over the internet.

"There is huge interest in drug purity testing, and this new device now makes this simple and possible for the first time," Nitschke told i News.

"The significance for the elderly is huge, and we think shows yet again how technology is outrunning any attempt by legislation to control access to the means for a peaceful death."

The purchase and importation of Nembutal into Western countries is illegal but the drug is manufactured in China, where companies are willing to supply the pill to meet demand.

Although purchasing the drug online has been straightforward in the past, there have been a growing number of fraudulent internet sites popping up, which come with the risk of purchasing fake versions of the drug.

Alongside this is limited access to testing facilities to assure drug quality, with commercial laboratories hesitant to test Nembutal "for fear they may be accused of 'assisting a suicide'," and home-testing kits often hard to use and the results difficult to understand, Nitschke said.

Nitschke, who is sometimes known as "Dr Death", also told the newswire of a conversation he held with Bryan Lask, a former Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at St George's University of London, who used imported drugs from Mexico to end his life in 2015. Nitschke said Lask had concerns over the purity of the drugs he was looking to purchase and the tests available for him to use to ensure their quality.

The new app, which was launched last week, aims to remove these concerns, Nitschke said.

Meanwhile, an extension of the app is being developed to test liquid forms of veterinary Nembutal, which can be accessed over-the-counter in some South American countries.

The SCiO device, developed by Consumer Physics, is based on the bulky and expensive near infra-red spectroscopy technology used in labs and has been miniaturised for consumer use. It works by analysing vibrations given off by an item's molecular makeup that interact with light to create a unique optical signature for that item. This signature is sent to a smartphone app for comparison against a database of other molecular signatures.

The device has been touted for use to determine such things as the calorie content of food, as well as detecting counterfeit materials such as drugs.

The potential of the device has recently been taken up by Chinese smartphone company Changhong, which partnered with Consumer Physics. Together, the companies have developed the H2 smartphone featuring an in-built SCiO sensor to detect fake pills, the blood sugar impact of foods, and alcohol in drink.

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