Scientists have formulated a new simple test, which can, for the first time, detect use of cocaine with a single fingerprint. Led by the University of Surrey, a team of researchers used different types of an analytical chemistry technique known as mass spectrometry to analyze the fingerprints of patients attending drug treatment services.

They tested these prints against more commonly used saliva samples to determine whether the two tests correlated. While previous fingerprint tests have employed similar methods, they have only been able to show whether a person had touched cocaine, and not whether they have actually taken the drug.

Lead author Dr Melanie Bailey said that when someone took cocaine, they excrete traces of benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine as they metabolise the drug, and these chemical indicators are present in fingerprint residue.

He added that the beauty of this method was that, not only is it non-invasive and more hygienic than testing blood or saliva, it couldn’t be faked. Companies were already working on miniaturised mass spectrometers, and in the future portable fingerprint drugs tests could be deployed.

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