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April 6, 2004 - The Albany Times Union (NY)

Pieces Come Together For Drugrisk

Company Makes Key Hires As It Readies To Roll Out Hair-Based Test

By Alan Wechsler

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

SARATOGA - DrugRisk Solutions LLC isn't moving into its new home for another few months. But the company already has made two powerful acquisitions: Patrick Carpenter and Harry Puglisi Jr.

Carpenter, 44, is the former laboratory operations director at Quest Diagnostics Inc.'s hair-testing lab in Las Vegas. Before that, he reported to Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former President Bill Clinton's drug czar. Carpenter is DrugRisk's new director of laboratories.

Puglisi, 56, named DrugRisk's chief financial officer, spent 24 years at The Money Store -- seven as controller and 17 as treasurer. At its peak, the loan company had 100 stores and handled up to $7 billion a year in mortgages and loans before it was sold to First Union Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., in 1998.

Both men started April 1 at DrugRisk, a company that expects to launch its rapid drug-use-testing technology using human hair by the fall.

"With these two additions, we have completed virtually all of the core team," said David Brill, president and chief executive officer of DrugRisk. "We have a team in place that could bring the company public and capture the confidence of the public."

Brill, 50, a physician who also has a master's degree in public health - -- which he earned at the same time he completed medical school -- began DrugRisk in 1998. Before that, he was corporate medical director of 17 health clinics for employees of Michelin North America, the tire company.

While at Michelin, Brill looked at the impact of employees who use drugs. He found studies that showed such workers are three to four times more likely to have workplace accidents than nonusers.

Brill decided to institute urine drug-testing for new employees. Then, just two days after passing a urine drug test, a 26-year-old worker dropped dead of a cocaine overdose while at work. Clearly, urine-testing had its limits.

That's how Brill first got interested in hair testing. A hair follicle, tested properly, can recognize drug use over the last 90 days. Urine testing can go back only two or three days for hard drugs; urine tests also can be easily fooled.

About a million hair-based drug tests take place annually in the United States, compared with about 25 million urine tests, said Tom Eden, an attorney in Birmingham, Ala., who specializes in drug testing and is a contributing legal editor with the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group.

But while hair testing is more accurate, it also is up to twice as expensive as urine testing and takes up to two days to get results. Urine testing can be done on the spot.

"If the price and the turnaround time both were reduced, the industry is ripe for broad use of hair-testing," Eden said.

DrugRisk is working on technology that can test a 1-inch-long piece of hair in as little as two hours, with positive results needing to be sent to a laboratory for confirmation.

The company currently is operating in two trailers in Schuylerville, next to a former school now being renovated for its headquarters. DrugRisk, which currently has 15 employees, plans to lease part of that new building and move in this summer.

In February, the company received $500,000 from Empire State Development Corp.'s Small Business Technology Investment Fund to help develop additional drug-testing products.

The company's newest employees see great things from DrugRisk.

"It's a challenge to start up something," said Carpenter, a father of 10 who this week is starting the drive with his family from Nevada to upstate New York. "Quest ( his previous job in Las Vegas ) was just watching the mill run. This is making the mill."

Puglisi, who recently invested $75,000 in DrugRisk, will for now work part time from his homes in Sacramento, Calif., and Edison, N.J. He said he expects DrugRisk either to go public in the future or to be sold to a larger company.

"I see a commitment from David ( Brill ) and everybody else involved to make this work," Puglisi said. "I think it has a lot of potential."

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