New test detects drug use from a single fingerprint

May 15, 2015
Image credit: Wikimedia.

Research published today in the journal Analyst has demonstrated a new, noninvasive test that can detect cocaine use through a simple fingerprint. For the first time, this new fingerprint method can determine whether cocaine has been ingested, rather than just touched.

Led by the University of Surrey, a team of researchers from the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NL), the National Physical Laboratory (UK), King's College London (UK) and Sheffield Hallam University (UK), used different types of an analytical chemistry technique known as mass spectrometry to analyse the of patients attending treatment services. They tested these prints against more commonly used saliva samples to determine whether the two tests correlated. While previous fingerprint tests have employed similar methods, they have only been able to show whether a person had touched cocaine, and not whether they have actually taken the drug.

"When someone has taken cocaine, they excrete traces of benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine as they metabolise the drug, and these chemical indicators are present in fingerprint residue," said lead author Dr Melanie Bailey from the University of Surrey. "For our part of the investigations, we sprayed a beam of solvent onto the fingerprint slide (a technique known as Desorption Electrospray Ionisation, or DESI) to determine if these substances were present. DESI has been used for a number of forensic applications, but no other studies have shown it to demonstrate drug use."

Researchers believe that the applications for this test could be far-reaching. Drug testing is used routinely by probation services, prisons, courts and other law enforcement agencies. However, traditional testing methods have limitations. For example, blood testing requires trained staff and there are privacy concerns about urine testing. Where bodily fluids are tested, there can be biological hazards and often a requirement for particular storage and disposal methods. Often these tests also require analysis off-site.

"The beauty of this method is that, not only is it non-invasive and more hygienic than testing blood or saliva, it can't be faked," added Dr Bailey. "By the very nature of the test, the identity of the subject is captured within the fingerprint ridge detail itself."

It is anticipated that this technology could see the introduction of portable drug tests for to use within the next decade.

"We are only bound by the size of the current technology. Companies are already working on miniaturised mass spectrometers, and in the future portable fingerprint drugs tests could be deployed. This will help to protect the public and indeed provide a much safer test for drug users," said Dr Bailey.

Explore further: Researchers develop first validated method of detecting drugs of abuse in exhaled breath

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not rated yet May 15, 2015
Drug abuse is just a sympthom of underlying personal Problems of the abuser.
It's rather sad, that there is more developement in Technologies to help criminalize drug users, than developement in finding solutions to the social and personal reasons why people turn to drugs.

In my oppinion drug abuse is a sympthom of underlying problems with the way we live in our society that need to be adressed for a solution.
not rated yet May 15, 2015
What's the big deal with drug use? Its a health problem for the most part, isn't it?
Criminality, to me, has to have intended harm to others at it's core.
Consenting adults in private should be allowed to do whatever they choose, surely?
Unfortunately these moralistic lawmakers and the industry of enforcers they have spawned are limited only by the technology of what they can measure and prosecute, they have no concept as to whether they should or should not be doing a thing.
not rated yet May 16, 2015
Portugal decriminalized ALL drugs back in 2001, and it seems that things are actually better than before...

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