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CHICAGO — It`s a new tool to test for drugs and alcohol in children and teens and you don’t need to look any further than your own ten digits.

The answer quite literally is at your fingertips.

Elevate, a Midwestern-based resource center, helps assess at-risk kids with a number of behavioral issues, including drug and alcohol use.

Getting help begins with a biomarker test.

The test looks specifically at a user`s fingernails. Just ten clippings the width of a quarter can give counselors and parents a three month history of abuse of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and opiates.

But how does it work?  What are these otherwise meaningless fingernail clippings telling us about drugs in our system?  A forensics lab right here in Chicago provides the answers.

“United States Drug Testing Laboratories Incorporated,” U.S.D.T.L. for short in Des Plaines.

“For most people in treatment, getting through denial is the first stage in successfully treating them,” says Doug Lewis, Executive Director.

Biomarker testing offers an undeniable confirmation of a person`s substance abuse.  Unlike a urine test, which can only show a three-day history, biomarkers can tell if a person has been binging over the course of three months.

Lewis says his lab processes nearly 500 samples every day.  It only takes 24 hours to get results.  USDTL is one of only four private labs in the country offering biomarker testing.

Here`s how it works: as your nail grows, the chemicals in drugs bind with the keratin, or protein fibers in your hair and nails.

They grow out, keeping that data trapped for long periods of time.

Fingernail clippings have been found to be more accurate than hair samples because hair treatments and dyes can weaken the test.

The nails are broken down and processed in machines giving researchers a window into a history of substance abuse.

Biomarker results also give parents and addiction counselors more tools to combat substance abuse in kids. It could be the test that nails any mystery about an addict`s behavior.

It’s critical at a time when the war on drugs, especially in the Midwest, is of epidemic proportions.

The biomarker testing is used in adults too. In those cases, the test is often court-ordered.