Could illegal drugs be detected by one fingerprint?  

The words “could  I just take a blood sample please” could soon be a thing of the past thanks to research carried out by Bailey et al.

Every year, billions of dollars are invested in testing  illegal drugs. Normally, if it is suspected that a person has taken drugs a blood or urine test would be carried out. However, this could be problematic as it requires trained staff and extraction techniques.Researchers at the University of addiction_cocaineSurrey may have found the solution. Bailey et al have discovered a new fingerprint test that could detect metabolites and drugs such as cocaine and benzoylecgonine via latent fingerprints. This means that illegal drug  detection could be now portable and able to test multiple drug groups at a time.

So how does this work?

An analysis technique called  Desorption Electrospray Ionisation operates under ambient conditions with Matrix Assisted Laser desorption/ Ion mobility Tandem Mass Spectrometry and works by detecting whether or not a drug is present. Bailey et al says that ‘companies are already working on miniaturised mass spectrometers, and in the future this could be deployed’

However, with any technique, there are always problems.

Bailey says ‘A fingerprint is not stable as a function of time and, unlike blood or urine, you don’t know how much sample has been deposited.’ Bailey also says that ‘we’re quite a long way from analysing fingermarks at crime scenes; it’s still quite challenging to detect illicit substances in a fingerprint that has been deposited under controlled conditions.’

So could portable fingerprint analysis be used in law enfocement?  The answer is only time can tell.


M J Bailey et al, Analyst, 2015, DOI: 10.1039/c5an00112a

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Krystal Douglas

Krystal Douglas is a Chemistry and Biology graduate who enjoys blogging in her spare time.

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