Forensic researchers from the University of Surrey in southeast England have revealed they can examine fingerprints to determine whether a person has ingested cocaine or merely touched cocaine. In 2017, Melanie Bailey and her team utilized a new test that used high-resolution mass spectrometry (“HRMS”) to examine fingerprints taken from persons who had testified to taking cocaine within the previous 24 hours. These subjects were then asked to wash their hands and give another set of prints. This same procedure was followed to examine fingerprints taken from another group of people who had only touched street cocaine. Those who had ingested cocaine produced a molecule known as benzoylecgonine that was not detected in the fingerprints taken from those who had only touched the drug.
Because 1-in-10 non-drug users are exposed to cocaine through environmental factors such as handling money, the ability to determine who has ingested versus who has merely touched cocaine is critical. This is especially true with the “war on drugs” and the legal ramifications of positive field-tests.
Bailey said, “At the roadside it would be possible to carry out a screening test, but you would still need to collect a sample to take back to the lab for confirmation.”
Researchers also believe the testing method will eventually be used to detect if people are receiving the correct dosage of therapeutic drugs.
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