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New test used fingerprints to reveal cocaine use

Many South Carolina residents submit to drug tests every year, and these tests usually include providing a urine, saliva or blood sample. While these tests may yield accurate results most of the time, they are invasive and those being tested may sometimes be able to mask their drug use. Researchers from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands say that they have developed a new drug test that overcomes these shortcomings by detecting cocaine use through the use of fingerprint analysis.

The research was published in May 2015 in the scientific journal Analyst, and it details how cocaine use can be detected in fingerprints using a process known as mass spectrometry. The chemicals methylecgonine and benzoylecgonine are produced in the body as cocaine is metabolized, and the new drug test detects these substances. The researchers say that the fingerprints of an individual who has simply handled cocaine would not test positive as these chemicals would not be present unless the drug had been consumed.

A benefit of the new test is that the sample used can be conclusively linked to an individual because no two fingerprints are alike. The researchers say that portable kits will be available to law enforcement agencies across the country within 10 years.

Some criminal defense attorneys will likely have mixed feelings about this new form of drug test, and the research raises an number of questions. While fingerprints may be definitely linked to a particular individual, the time that they were left cannot be established with any degree of certainty. The use of portable kits will likely make it easy for police officers to test fingerprints, but this could potentially lead to a person's constitutional rights being violated. Questions could also be asked about the reliability of fingerprint drug tests because benzoylecgonine is used in solutions used to treat muscle pain.

Source: Medical Laboratory Observer, False-positive DOA testing results due to prescription medications, Amitava Dasgupta, October 2009

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