1 in 10 People Have Cocaine or Heroin on Their Fingerprints

Scientists have discovered that illegal drugs have become so pervasive that 13% of people participating in a recent research project research were identified as having remnants of class A drugs on their fingerprints – even though they never used them before.

There is, however, no simple escape for actual drug users, as University of Surrey scientists have created a fast fingerprint check to detect real drug use. The scientists have devised a conclusive method to verify the distinction between those taking cocaine and heroin, and those who come across the drugs as a result of environmental reasons.

Clinical Chemistry published a study in which scientist from the University analysed the fingerprints of 50 volunteers who were not drug users and 15 real drug users who confirmed to using either heroin or cocaine within the last 24 hours.

Scientists examined fingerprints from unwashed fingers of volunteers who were drug-free and, even though they had no background of using drugs, nevertheless discovered remnants of class A drugs on them. Approximately 13% of fingerprints were discovered to have cocaine and 1% included a metabolite of heroin. By imposing a “cut-off” amount, scientists were in a position to differentiate between fingerprints that were a result of environmental impurities from those generated after actual drug use – even when participants did a hand wash.

To check the potential for transmitting drugs via a handshake, volunteers that were drug-free were requested to shake hands with a real drug user. Fingerprints were subsequently collected from the drug-free volunteers following the handshake. Even though heroin and cocaine were found to be transmitted by handshaking with a drug user, the cut-off amount set up made it possible for scientists to differentiate between actual drug use and transmission from a secondary source.

Shockingly, cocaine happens to be a very widespread environmental contaminant – it is actually widely known that it exists on numerous paper bills and coins. Having said that, scientists were amazed that it was found in such a large number of the fingerprint samples.

The scientists now recognise that the future of testing for drugs is fingerprint testing. There are numerous factors that give fingerprint testing and advantage over other methods – it’s not invasive, simple to gather and you are able to determine the contributor via the sample.

Intelligent Fingerprinting co-funded the study. They are creators of the world’s first portable drug test that is commercially available. It works by taking a sweat sample from the fingerprints and analysing it.

Photo Credit: “Cocaine” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Valerie Everett