One in ten people have traces of cocaine or heroin on their fingerprints

March 22, 2018, University of Surrey
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Scientists have found that drugs are now so prevalent that 13 per cent of those taking part in a test were found to have traces of class A drugs on their fingerprints - despite never using them.

But there is no easy escape for users as researchers from the University of Surrey, who have previously developed a quick fingerprint to identify users, have created a definitive way to prove the difference between those using cocaine and heroin, and those exposed to the drugs due to environmental factors.

In a study published by Clinical Chemistry, researchers from the University tested the fingerprints of 50 drug free volunteers and 15 drug users who testified to taking either cocaine or heroin in the previous 24 hours.

Researchers tested fingerprints from the unwashed hands of the drug-free volunteers and, despite having no history of drug use, still found traces of class A drugs. Around 13 per cent of fingerprints were found to contain cocaine and one per cent contained a metabolite of heroin. By setting a "cut-off" level, researchers were able to distinguish between that had environmental contaminants from those produced after genuine drug use - even after people washed their hands.

To test the possibility of transferring drugs through a handshake, drug free volunteers were asked to shake hands with a drug user. Fingerprints were then collected from the drug free volunteers after contact. Although cocaine and heroin can be transferred by shaking hands with a drug user, the cut-off level established allowed researchers to distinguish between drug use and secondary transfer.

Dr Melanie Bailey, Lecturer in Forensic Analysis at the University of Surrey, said: "Believe it or not, cocaine is a very common environmental contaminant - it is well known that it is present on many bank notes. Even so, we were surprised that it was detected in so many of our fingerprint samples. By establishing a threshold for significance on a fingerprint test, we can give those tested the piece-of-mind of knowing that whatever the result of the test may be, it was not affected by their everyday activities or shaking hands with someone that had taken drugs."

Mahado Ismail, lead-author of the paper from the University of Surrey, said: "It's clear that fingerprint testing is the future of drug-testing. There are many factors that set fingerprint testing apart - it's non-invasive, easy to collect and you have the ability to identify the donor by using the sample. Our study will help to add another robust layer to fingerprint drug testing."

The study was co-funded by Intelligent Fingerprinting, developers of the world's first commercially-available portable drug test that works by analysing the sweat from a fingerprint sample. According to Intelligent Fingerprinting's CEO, Dr Jerry Walker: "this important study confirms the University of Surrey's position as one of the world's foremost academic research groups when it comes to fingerprint diagnostics using mass spectrometry. Critically, it also helps to establish a quantifiable high threshold for environmental drug traces - further establishing the validity of our commercial fingerprint-based test for , opiates, cannabis and amphetamines."

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

More information: Clinical Chemistry (2018). DOI: 10.1373/clinchem.2017.281469

Related Stories

New test detects drug use from a single fingerprint

May 15, 2015

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 ...

Research could help point the finger at drug dealers

June 30, 2015

An innovative technology pioneered by Sheffield Hallam University academics can detect the presence of a range of illegal and designer drugs from a single fingerprint, which could be a valuable new tool in bringing drug dealers ...

Recommended for you

Wearable device measures cortisol in sweat

July 20, 2018

The hormone cortisol rises and falls naturally throughout the day and can spike in response to stress, but current methods for measuring cortisol levels require waiting several days for results from a lab. By the time a person ...

Researchers report two-faced Janus membrane applications

July 20, 2018

Named for the mythical god with two faces, Janus membranes—double-sided membranes that serve as gatekeepers between two substances—have emerged as a material with potential industrial uses. Creating two distinct "faces" ...

Chemists characterize the fatal fungus among us

July 19, 2018

Life-threatening fungal infections affect more than two million people worldwide. Effective antifungal medications are very limited. Until now, one of the major challenges is that the fungal cell wall is poorly understood, ...

Infrared sensor as new method for drug discovery

July 19, 2018

Using an infrared sensor, biophysicists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have succeeded in analysing quickly and easily which active agents affect the structure of proteins and how long that effect lasts. Thus, Prof Dr. ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

24volts
not rated yet Mar 26, 2018
And if they just got a bill in change used by someone to snort coke recently those results are going to be way off.
granville583762
5 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2018
This is supposed to be research on non drug users having traces on their fingers?

Reading through the article it hasn't said anything describing real life situations.

It described a non drug user shaking hands with a drug user; of course there's going to be traces on his fingers. Instead of going to the Blue water shopping centre taking finger print and bank note samples all day to get a representative sample, instead it gets 50 drug free volunteers and 15 drug users. Hardly a representative sample!
(15/(15+50)) x100% =27.08% of the sample are drug users = 13% of people with traces on their fingers.

There is not 27% of the shoppers who use Blue water shopping centre who are drug user's, it is a far lower percentage which means the 13% is extremely suspect, the actual real life figure obtained from any busy shopping centre is a far lower percentage.

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

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.