First large scale study of cocaine users leads to breakthrough in drug testing

cocaine
A pile of cocaine hydrochloride. Credit: DEA Drug Enforcement Agency, public domain

Scientists from the University of Surrey have developed a rapid and highly sensitive fingerprint test that can take just seconds to confirm whether someone has used cocaine.

This new breakthrough, published in Clinical Chemistry, comes as a result of the first large scale study of cocaine users and could pave the way for the detection of a range of other Class A substances.

The research was carried out with partners from the Netherlands Forensic Institute and Intelligent Fingerprinting.

The team, led by Dr Catia Costa and Dr Melanie Bailey from the University of Surrey, developed a new technique to analyse the levels of cocaine detected in the fingerprints. They used chromatography paper to take the sample as part of a technique known as paper spray mass spectrometry.

The study involved taking fingerprints from a group of patients seeking treatment at rehabilitation centres, as well as a larger group not known to be drug users. All of those taking part washed their hands before the test in a variety of ways, and then samples were collected on the prepared chromatography paper. The fingerprint is developed using chemicals, so that the ridges of the fingerprint (and therefore the identity of the donor) can be established prior to analysis. 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. Importantly, the traces can still be detected even after handwashing.

According to the National Statistics Office, 1 in 12 adults aged 16 to 59 (around 2.7 million people) had taken illicit drugs in 2015/16. There were also over 8,500 people who were admitted to hospital after being diagnosed with drug-related mental health and behavioural disorder. In 2015, there were almost 2,500 deaths related to drug misuse - an increase of 10 per cent on 2014.

Dr Costa said: "Paper spray mass spectrometry is gaining increasing popularity in forensic circles because it is incredibly sensitive and is very easy to set up a testing system - the units will save laboratories time.

"This is the first time it has ever been used to detect the presence of drugs in fingerprints, and our results show the technique was 99% effective in detecting cocaine use among the patients."

Dr Bailey said: "This is a real breakthrough in our work to bring a real time, non-invasive drug-testing method to the market that will provide a definitive result in a matter of minutes - we are already working on a 30 second method."

"And, as with previous methods we have developed, it is non-invasive, hygienic and can't be faked - by the nature of the test, the identity of the subject, and their drug use, is all captured within the sample itself."

"This exciting research clearly demonstrates the important role that fingerprints can play in simplifying drug screening, and complements our own parallel developments in portable, point-of-use diagnostic tests. These activities confirm the value of a fingerprint as a diagnostic matrix," added Dr Jerry Walker, Intelligent Fingerprinting's CEO.

"We have supported the University of Surrey research programmes for the last four years, and Dr Bailey and her team have shown time and again that they are the world's leading group in fingerprint diagnostics research using mass spectrometry. We congratulate them in continuing to expand knowledge in the revolutionary field of fingerprint-based diagnostics."

It is anticipated that this technology could see the introduction of drug tests for law enforcement agencies to use within the next decade. Drug testing is used routinely by probation services, prisons, courts and other . However, traditional testing methods have limitations. Where bodily fluids are tested, there can be biological hazards and often a requirement for particular storage and disposal methods.


Explore further

New test detects drug use from a single fingerprint

Journal information: Clinical Chemistry

Citation: First large scale study of cocaine users leads to breakthrough in drug testing (2017, September 22) retrieved 26 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2017-09-large-scale-cocaine-users-breakthrough.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
67 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Sep 22, 2017
So, a o.3% injury rate and a 0.09% fatality rate...perhaps you'd like to compare the stats on car usage, horse riding, DIY projects....you name it. Prohibition laws are a massive overreaction to a minor problem when compared to other risky activities. There are prescription medications that don't get to claim a use to harm ratio any lower than this. Add to this the massive damage to communities due to the jailing and sanctioning over the massively inflated drug laws...it's beyond ridiculous. End prohibition- controlled sale of certain drugs and you end profiteering and the harm from uncontrolled use...no brainer!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more