Fingerprint test can tell if you've taken or handled cocaine

Wednesday, 12 February, 2020

Fingerprint test can tell if you've taken or handled cocaine

For drug testing, it is necessary to be able to distinguish those who have handled cocaine from those who have ingested it because the legal ramifications are different (for example, drug driving). Now, UK scientists have demonstrated how such tests can be carried out accurately and painlessly using high-resolution mass spectrometry techniques and a single fingerprint sample.

Researchers from the University of Surrey, Forensic Science Ireland and the National Physical Laboratory teamed up with Intelligent Fingerprinting, which offers its own commercially available drug screening system based on eccrine sweat collected from fingerprints. Together, the team took fingerprints from people seeking treatment at drug rehabilitation clinics who had testified to taking cocaine during the previous 24 hours.

Fingerprints were collected from each patient, and the participants were then asked to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before giving another set of fingerprints. This same process was used to collect samples from a pool of drug non-users who had touched street cocaine. The Surrey researchers then used their experimental fingerprint drug testing approach (based on rapid, high-resolution mass spectrometry) to cross-reference the information from the drug non-users who had touched cocaine with that of volunteers who testified ingesting it.

The team found that a molecule produced in the body when cocaine is ingested, benzoylecgonine, is essential in distinguishing those who have consumed the class A drug from those who have handled it. Benzoylecgonine was not present in samples from drug non-users, even after touching street cocaine and then washing their hands. The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“A fingerprint is a great way to test for drugs as it is so quick and efficient to collect,” said study co-author Dr Min Jang from the University of Surrey. “Using our methodology, it is possible to analyse a fingerprint sample for drugs in less than 2 minutes.”

Co-author Dr Catia Costa, also from the University of Surrey, added, “We are excited about the possibilities for fingerprint drug testing. In addition to illicit drugs, we have found that we can detect pharmaceutical drugs in fingerprints and we are keen to see if we can use this to help patients to check that their medication is being delivered at the right dose.”

Professor David Russell, founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Intelligent Fingerprinting, concluded, “This University of Surrey laboratory study into cocaine testing using experimental high-resolution mass spectrometry techniques validates the approach Intelligent Fingerprinting took when originally commercialising our portable fingerprint-based drug screening system for use at the point of care. Because our commercially available test detects both cocaine traces and benzoylecgonine — the major metabolite of cocaine — our customers have been successfully using fingerprint-based drug tests since the summer of 2017 to determine whether cocaine has actually been taken.”

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