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Fingerprint test can identify traces of cocaine – and can tell if it has been consumed or has just been processed

New fingerprint test can identify traces of cocaine on human skin even after a person has washed his hands – and can see if it has been consumed or just treated

  • Test developed by scientists from the University of Surrey takes less than 2 minutes
  • It works by detecting traces of the chemical benzoylecgonine in people’s sweat
  • The test can distinguish between those who have treated cocaine and those who have taken it
  • It can also be used for heroin, cannabis or amphetamine

Scientists have developed a simple and rapid fingerprint test to identify cocaine users based on chemicals that are excreted in their sweat.

The test, which can detect traces of cocaine on human skin, even after someone has washed his hand, can tell whether a person has actually consumed the class A drug or is just dealing with it.

The breakthrough technique, which is based on analyzing chemicals that are excreted in sweat, can lead to staff screening – especially in workplaces where public safety is a problem.

It can also help with the rehabilitation of medicines, the management of perpetrators and corpses when a body first arrives in a mortuary.

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The test works by detecting traces of the chemical benzoylecgonine in people’s sweat. Image shows a metabolite in a fingerprint

“A fingerprint is a great way to test medicine because it’s so fast and efficient to collect,” said co-author Dr. Min Jang of the chemistry department at the University of Surrey.

“Using our methodology, it is possible to analyze a fingerprint sample for medicines in less than 2 minutes.”

In particular, benzoylecgonine, produced in the body when cocaine is taken, tells those who have consumed it from those who have used it.

The molecule was not present in samples from non-users of the Class A drug, even after touching street cocaine and then washing their hands.

Dr. Lablid Catia Costa said it can also be used for heroin, cannabis or amphetamine.

She said: ‘We are enthusiastic about the possibilities for testing fingerprints of medicines.

“In addition to illegal drugs, we have discovered that we can detect pharmaceutical drugs in fingerprints.

“We want to see if we can use this to help patients check if their medication is being delivered in the right dose.”

It can distinguish between those who have taken it or just have been accidentally exposed in just a few minutes - even after they have been washed

It can distinguish between those who have taken it or just have been accidentally exposed in just a few minutes – even after they have been washed

In a series of experiments described in Scientific Reports, the test accurately and painlessly selected cocaine users using a single sample.

Fingerprints were collected from people seeking treatment at drug clinics who had admitted having used cocaine in the last 24 hours.

Participants were then asked to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before making another set of fingerprints.

The same process was used to collect samples from a group of drug users who had touched street cocaine.

The researchers then used a scanning technique called fast mass spectrometry with high resolution to refer to the information from both groups.

For drug testing, it is vital to distinguish those who have processed cocaine from those who have taken it.

The legal consequences are huge, where issues such as driving under the influence of drugs are involved, the researchers said.

The new technique can lead to the screening of staff and can also help with the rehabilitation of medicines, the management of perpetrators and corpses when a body first arrives in a mortuary

The new technique can lead to the screening of staff and can also help with the rehabilitation of medicines, the management of perpetrators and corpses when a body first arrives in a mortuary

Dr. Melanie Bailey, also at the University of Surrey, said: “We think this research is really important because our high resolution mass spectrometry laboratory test can see the difference between a person who has touched a drug and someone who has actually consumed it – just by taking their fingerprints. “

A similar drug screening system that uses different scanning techniques to detect specific drugs in sweat is already available from the Cambridge-based company Intelligent Fingerprinting.

Founder and Scientific Director Professor David Russell said: ‘This laboratory study at the University of Surrey on cocaine testing using high-resolution mass spectrometric techniques validates the Intelligent Fingerprinting approach when we originally launched our portable fingerprint-based drug screening system on the marketed for point-of-care use.

“Since our commercially available test detects both cocaine traces and benzoylecgonine – the main metabolite of cocaine – our customers have been successfully using finger-dependent drug tests since summer 2017 to determine whether cocaine has actually been taken.”

About one third of UK adults aged 16 to 59 have used illicit drugs at some point in their lives, nearly one in twenty in the last month. Cocaine is the second most popular, after cannabis.

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