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Dr. Joseph Graas, Lab Director, San Diego Reference Laboratory | Insights Care

San Diego Reference Laboratory (SDRL) is a full-service, client-focused analytical biomedical testing laboratory. The lab was first licensed in January of 1989 as a commercial clinical laboratory. The bedrock idea behind establishing it was to provide clinical and toxicological laboratory services to the law enforcement community, private industry for pre-employment testing, and drug treatment clinics. SDRL has been spearheading in the toxicology and clinical laboratory testing field for over twenty-five years and has been a pioneer in methadone drug testing since 1993.

The laboratory’s core mission is to provide the highest quality of testing, superior customer service, and competitive pricing to a broad range of clients throughout the United States. It is dedicated to meeting the needs of its customers by delivering comprehensive clinical and drug testing toxicology services with a commitment to accuracy, expediency, and accessibility.

Distinctiveness of the Lab

At SDRL, the team takes pride in the technical expertise and assistance they can offer clients. The team communicates daily with their clients and learns about new trends in the addiction community and keep upgrading the service portfolio, accordingly. They support these expanded tests with Technical Briefs, which are informative bulletins sent to the clients that explain the test and its interpretation.

In 2011, SDRL initiated writing The Toxicology Times, a monthly publication for clinicians and counsellors. This monthly publication reviews various topics surrounding the interpretation of clinical results, drugs, metabolism, elimination and impact on the patients’ health. With this depth of technical expertise, the lab is recently certified to provide Continuing Education Units (CEU’s) to its client’s technical staff.

SDRL’s client service phone lines are always answered by a live customer executive. The lab’s senior management, including the CEO, is also available for more in deep and technical explanations.

In order to maintain certain licenses and certifications, SDRL participates in several proficiency programs including California Methadone Drug Analysis Laboratory Proficiency program, Pennsylvania Proficiency Testing, as well as the College of American Pathologists Forensic Drug Testing (CAP FDT).

How was SDRL Established?

The lab was started in 1989 in response to the change in the testing marketplace. There was a developing need in the opiate treatment clinics for reliable and cost-effective toxicology testing that was performed quickly and accurately. The California laboratory license requirements to provide services to these treatment organizations are very rigorous and quite exacting. The license is built around definitive drug testing procedures and blind proficiency testing.

In “blind” proficiency testing, the proficiency samples are sent to the clients of the testing laboratory. They are then repackaged and relabelled with pseudo patient names and submitted to the laboratory. The laboratory does the testing and reports the results to the clinic. These results are then sent to the regulatory agency by client. Proficiency testing is done on a monthly basis with a variable number of samples.

There was also a need to offer clinical and wellness testing to the patients in the programs, which was not being offered at that time. Today, SDRL supports the physicians with functional testing in serology, hematology, and immunology as well as liver function tests. This testing supports the clinical maladies that result from drug addiction.

Avant-garde Lab Equipment

SDRL utilizes the latest cutting-edge laboratory technology where all specimens are barcoded with a unique number and are tracked throughout the laboratory testing process with an exact chain-of-custody. At the lab, the specimens are stored in a secure facility to make it available for further testing. Also, reports are available on the clinic’s web portal in a secure fashion and is available for  later review. The initial analysis of the specimen is performed by the high speed analytical instruments for reliable and quick identification of various levels of substances by drug class.

Besides, confirmations are performed on abnormal results to identify the specific analyte of the drug class by the state of the art HPLC/MS/MS or GC/MS methodology. With its up-to-date quality control, SDRL makes QC results available to its clients as the further assurance of their work.

On the safety front, SDRL is a drug-free workplace and has a strict drug testing policy and enforcement of requirements. All employees are trained in accordance with the policies and every employee follows Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) as per the departments. Also, the lab maintains employee files that have checklists indicating a proper flow of the training. The lab also has safety meetings and a safety monitor in each department. Besides, employees are also provided with the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

About the Leading Light

Dr. Joseph Graas, the founding member of SDRL, is the Laboratory Director. Dr. Graas holds a PhD in clinical chemistry and toxicology and has an extensive background in the field.  Having participated in laboratory operations for nearly fifty years, he is considered as an expert in the toxicology segment and has been retained to testify in court in many state and federal cases. Besides, he is a member of the American Chemical Society, American Association for Clinical Chemistry, California Association of Toxicologists, and a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemists and National Academy of Clinical Biochemistry. Dr. Graas has many technical publications and patents in the field of Chemistry.

Bringing in Quality

The team of SDRL works with clients to solve any issues they might experience and help explain results both verbally and with the supported documentation, such as the Toxicology Times. Today, they are working at par with the changing needs of the clients with new medications and technology. They also attend various conferences to learn new information in the field and have added new testing techniques. It has also expanded test menu to assist its clients keep up with new trends in drug abuse.

SDRL has taken special projects for clients to help them understand what’s going on with their patients, specifically pregnant females taking methadone, medication interactions, and dosage compliance.

Happy Clients of SDRL

SDRL shares some of the memorable feedbacks from its clients.

  • “We are so pleased with our decision to change labs. Every aspect of SDRL’s service is superior to what we were receiving.. SDRL continues to surpass our expectations. Real people answer the phone, and everyone is helpful and knowledgeable.”- F. – Owner/Executive Director, California
  • “The level of service I receive from SDRL is unmatched – they make me feel like I’m the only customer they have. I would highly recommend SDRL to anyone searching for a supportive, trustworthy and responsive laboratory!”- M. – Owner, Illinois

Other Services

SDRL has implemented a 2D barcode system that allows for efficient and error free receipt of the patient samples and tracking throughout the testing and storage process. Its clinical testing is geared towards the treatment of the patients. The lab also streamlines the process from the clinic to the laboratory and customizes services for each client. So, it’s not a ‘one size fits all’.

Future Goals

SDRL wishes to expand the clinical laboratory testing and to launch Therapeutic Drug Monitoring for all medications offered by client physicians in the treatment of their patients. The laboratory is also planning to monitor the spread of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in its patient population and to expand its clinical testing menu to include health and wellness testing. Besides, SDRL will be focusing on maintaining and improving customer care and enhancing quality management.