The Future of Alcohol Testing: Transdermal Testing?

Transdermal alcohol testing with the use of the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor (SCRAM) alcohol testing bracelets was launched in the UK in 2012. Since then it has proved to be effective in reducing the consumption of alcohol in offenders who committed alcohol influenced crimes.

The use of transdermal alcohol testing involving the wearing of SCRAM bracelets by London courts is a recent initiative that is being bankrolled by the Ministry of Justice and the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. A pilot scheme was conducted in South London boroughs from July 2014 to July 2015 in which 113 people were given the bracelets and had to wear them for a 120-day period. The results showed that 92 percent of the 113 people stayed away from alcohol while they had on the bracelets.


How Does It Work?

While the SCRAM bracelet technology might be a recent one, the technology behind transdermal testing is not. The word transdermal means “through the skin” and transdermal alcohol testing is simply the measurement of the alcohol concentration present in the perspiration given off by the skin. The perspiration of a person that has been drinking will have increased levels of ethanol vapour, which has been metabolised from the alcohol, and this will be detected by the test.

The SCRAM bracelet is a tamper-evident, ankle bracelet which automatically takes samples of perspiration from the skin every 30 minutes, throughout the entire day and for every day of the week. This is done through a tiny pump in it. This mechanism helps to easily determine the frequency and pattern of the consumption of alcohol by the wearer. The SCRAM bracelet is synced with a wireless device and it sends all its recordings and results to the device. The device is monitored by the appropriate authorities so that they can track the wearer’s drinking habits almost in real time.


Is It The Future?

In cases where as a result of an alcohol influenced crime, an individual has been restricted from alcohol consumption, there is no better way to ensure that the individual demonstrates a high level of compliance to the restriction. This is thanks to the accuracy of the test and the ability of the authorities to regularly monitor the individual- using the readings from the bracelet. It brings a new dimension to monitoring alcohol use.

Transdermal alcohol is not a new thing to the courts as before now, transdermal testing in Family Law Courts had been written into the Legal Aid Guidance on Remuneration of Expert Witnesses. Transdermal testing has been proven to be very expedient to the family courts in the face of the steady dwindling of money and the adjustments made to the legal aid system in England and Wales. Transdermal alcohol testing with the use of SCRAM bracelets is just taking what was already in existence a step further.

As to what it holds for the future, as at April 2016, transdermal testing with SCRAM bracelets can now be used by courts in London with offenders of alcohol influenced crimes. Magistrates are now expected to favour the use of SCRAM bracelets over the sentencing of alcohol influenced crime offenders to unpaid labour.


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