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Some celebs may call it bling

Lohan's ankle bracelet is no fashion statement. It can detect alcohol in sweat and report it via modem to authorities.

July 20, 2007|Joshua Zumbrun | Washington Post

Whenever Lindsay Lohan so much as sweats, it is required that some journalist, somewhere, write a story about it. So here is that story.

After all, you can learn a lot about people from their sweat. If they've been exercising or eating cloves of garlic. Or in Lohan's case, if she's been drinking too much alcohol, as she has been known to do on occasion.

It's the sweat that's often the alcohol-swilling giveaway, the 80-proof perfume that seeps out of every pore in the body, that stains undershirts, that toxifies socks. And if humans can pick up the odor, then it's not surprising that engineering geniuses have created a machine that can smell it and report via modem if a person has been drinking, and it's not so surprising that the machine has ended up strapped to Lohan's ankle.

Her publicist told People magazine that Lohan, who celebrated an alcohol-free 21st birthday earlier this month, decided "on her own" to wear the bracelet to demonstrate her commitment to sobriety, after an arrest in May for driving under the influence and a 45-day stint at a Malibu treatment center.

What is this boozer-busting creation? The Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, or SCRAM, a sweat-sensing, electronically monitored anklet, has rocketed in popularity. Since its launch in 2003, the ankle bracelets have helped keep 40,000 drinkers on the wagon, according to the manufacturer, often as a condition of parole or probation for alcohol offenders.

"We can't comment on or confirm any particular client. But if you have confirmation that someone is on an alcohol-monitoring bracelet, it would be ours," said Kathleen Brown, a spokeswoman for Alcohol Monitoring Systems, the Colorado-based company that manufactures the anklets.

The black, clunky ankle bracelet's rise to fame is the sort craved by upstart clothing designers: Former "Lost" star Michelle Rodriguez (who derided it on her website as "a VCR Dog Tag") sported one at New York's Fashion Week in February; rapper-actress Eve started wearing one at the end of June; Tracy Morgan of "30 Rock" wore one in early June while hosting the Guy's Choice Awards for Spike TV. The ankle bracelet has reached the apex of tabloid-celebrity fashion since Lohan wore one last Saturday while clubbing with her friends in Las Vegas.

The SCRAM ankle bracelets, which cannot be removed by the wearer, reads the ethanol content of ankle sweat every hour. Once a day, the anklet wearer must be near the SCRAM modem, which reports the data to SCRAMNet, where law enforcement can easily see if court-ordered teetotalers are behaving.

Most of the 43 states that have SCRAM programs require the offender to pay a $50 to $100 installation fee and a $10 to $12 daily monitoring fee.

"From our side of things, alcohol has always been the difficult one to test for because it leaves the system so quickly," says Pete Cucinotta, the St. Mary's County Juvenile Drug Court Program coordinator in Maryland. The court started using the ankle bracelets earlier this year. "Other drugs you can do urine tests where you can pick up drugs for several hours or several days after use. But with alcohol, 60 minutes later, it's out of their system."

Cucinotta says the ankle bracelets have been effective at monitoring and curbing drinking among juveniles in his program. "A couple of them have said, 'That's really what kept me from drinking.' "

Though some of those ordered to wear the anklets may not welcome it, their proponents point to the annual deaths caused by excessive alcohol use: 75,000 in 2001, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

In some circles, it's not a coup to have Lohan traipsing around town in your product.

"Everybody says that there is no bad PR. But the thing that makes us uncomfortable with that publicity is we want people to know that this is really serious stuff," said spokeswoman Brown. "SCRAM is a really difficult thing to be on if you have a drinking problem. These are serious issues: DUI, domestic violence. We hope the high-profile stuff doesn't trivialize that."

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