A research team led by the University of Surry has devised a method of detecting drug usage using a single fingerprint. This non-invasive test can be primarily deployed for detecting cocaine usage, and can distinguish whether the drug has been ingested, or just touched. The test will revolutionise law enforcement, as results can be obtained faster, and without the possibility of falsified results.
Fingerprint tests have been employed before, but have only been able to prove that someone has touched the substance. However, Dr Melanie Bailie and her team have devised a method using mass spectrometry to look for chemicals that are only excreted by the skin whilst metabolising cocaine.
She said, “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.”
Law enforcement agencies are somewhat restricted by current testing methods. Blood tests need to be carried out by trained staff and under laboratory conditions, which can take time and is often moved off-site. Urine tests require privacy under the law, and have a risk of being faked. Biological hazards are also a factor in body fluid testing and must be stored properly as not to taint results.
The research team are hopeful that their test will help police, courts and other drug testing agencies obtain definitive results from a sample that will be almost impossible to falsify. Dr Bailie said, “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.
“By the very nature of the test, the identity of the subject is captured within the fingerprint ridge detail itself.”
Mass spectrometers are currently sizable pieces of equipment, however there are companies working on micro mass spectrometers. This could lead to portable testing kits in the future for police officers on patrol.