Researchers at the University of Surrey have created an innovative drug test that uses fingerprints to detect cocaine. The test is being considered remarkable for its ability to both positively detect traces of drugs and positively identify the user at the same time.
The research supporting the test has been published in the journal Clinical Chemistry and if becomes adopted in the medical field, urine and blood tests may just become obsolete.
How It Works
The researchers worked closely with the Netherlands Forensic Institute and Intelligent Fingerprinting. They utilized a technique known as paper spray mass spectrometry; a rapid monitoring and count of drug remnants in dried blood and skin pores.
The study used to develop and detail the test involved using the fingerprints of individuals who were in drug addiction treatment centers as well as a group of non-drug users. The participants washed their hands before receiving the test and used the special paper that creates the print. Basically, the paper is placed on the instrument that measures molecules and atoms, and then a solvent is poured over it to create a small electrical charge through the paper. The paper is then sent through the spectrometer and measures the molecules.
Cocaine users excrete small amounts of the compounds as their body breaks down the drug, and these compounds are identifiable on the print. What makes the test remarkable is the ability to detect cocaine positively even after hand washing.
Although this is not the first drug test to use fingerprints, it is the first to actually determine whether or not the individual actually used the drug. Previous tests could only tell whether the substance had come in contact with the individual, and had no way of differentiating metabolized drugs vs. mere contact.
Dr. Catia Costa, a co-author of the study, said the test will gain popularity for its effectiveness and its easiness to perform. “Paper Mass spray spectrophotometry is gaining increasing popularity in forensic circles because it is incredibly sensitive and is very easy to set up in a testing system-the units will save laboratory time” she explained.
The other benefit is the aspect of it being non-invasive. Common drug tests involve the extraction of blood, urine, and saliva, which run the risk of contamination and is a biohazard to those processing the sample.
How the Creators are Selling their Story
Some people are questioning how revolutionary the new drug test really is, saying that although the method is unique, other ways of sampling are just as effective, even though they are less “high tech”. Yet, the creators are painting an image around the new test that says a lot more than just accurate drug samples.
“Drug rehabilitation providers need to maintain an open relationship with clients that’s based on trust, so it’s critical that drug testing is quick, easy, and -most importantly-dignified,” said Dr. Jerry Walker, Chief Executive at Intelligent Fingerprinting.
The creators and sponsors of the product say that having such a quick and accurate testing system in place will better keep clients progress documented and transparent, and hopefully improve recoveries the experience in general. Psychologists and health care professionals say that normal drug testing has a stigma attached to it, and many clients feel violated when they have to give samples in this manner. This is another flaw the fingerprint test may help resolve.
Does The Test Have a Place In The Market?
“We are already working on a 30 second method” Dr. Melanie Bailey, a lead study author claimed. “Its non-invasive, hygienic, can’t be faked”.
Implications of such a rapid and efficient test are inconclusive. If it is sent to market, Law enforcement, courts, and probation services using the test could potentially revolutionize the entire field. False results will come to a halt, and identification and result information will be easily stored in one single file. The chances of matching results with the wrong person, which is actually quite common, will diminish. The research demonstrates the important role fingerprints play in simplifying drug screening, and the potential they could have in other fields.
For now though, the focus will be on drug testing. The test is already able to detect heroin on top of cocaine, and the researchers are working to test an even wider variety of substances. It can be used beyond testing illegal drug use as well. Researchers have talked with doctors and medical professionals and found the test to be suitable for ensuring patients are taking prescribed medications.
So yes, it has a very prominent place in the market. The product, however, is too new to release data concerning cost effectiveness, manufacturing, and current availability For right now researchers are focusing on releasing their study and getting the word out, but you can expect to see this novel test showing up at probation offices, courts, and hospitals in the very near future.
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