With the drug crisis reaching epic proportions, drug tests have become a critical tool in identifying individuals who engage in substance abuse and need treatment.
Researchers from the University of Surrey in the UK have created a fingerprint test that can detect whether or not someone has taken heroin or cocaine and accurately distinguish between drug users and individuals who were exposed to drug residue in the environment.
“The possibility of drug testing from a fingerprint has become the subject of many recent research articles, due to the ease and noninvasive nature of sample collection, as well as the fact that the donor’s identity is embedded within the ridge detail of the fingerprint itself,” Melanie Bailey, PhD, of the University of Surrey, said in a statement. “This provides … the possibility of rapidly and noninvasively carrying out drug testing in a way that is difficult to falsify. This is, we believe, the first study to explore the significance of testing for drugs from a fingerprint, and therefore, the first effort dedicated to establishing an environmental cutoff.”
The researchers fingerprint test protocol for both cocaine and heroin uses the gold standard drug testing method—liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS)—that is minimally impacted by environmental contamination.
The team collected fingerprints before and after handwashing on 50 non-drug users, 13 individuals who testified to taking cocaine and 12 individuals who testified to taking heroin in the past 24 hours. The team also collected fingerprints from a third set of non-drug users after they shook hands with the drug users.
The researchers analyzed the fingerprints with LC-MS for both heroin and the heroin metabolite 6-monoacetylmorphine.
Here, they found that this protocol identified 100 percent of the heroin users, even after washing their hands. The test also only gave a false positive for one non-drug user who shook hands with a drug user.
The team also used LC-MS to test for cocaine and its metabolite benzoylecgonine. The test identified 85 percent of the cocaine users after handwashing and produced zero false positive for the non-drug user group who came into contact with drug users.
The fingerprint test correctly identified more cocaine and heroin users than saliva testing.
The breakthrough could lead to the clinical adoption of fingerprint drug testing, revolutionizing drug testing by making it simpler and more difficult to cheat.
Many traditional tests are limited. For example, blood tests are invasive and require trained staff to collect samples, urine test samples are extremely easy to adulterate, and saliva tests, while noninvasive and more tamper-resistant, have a short window of detection.
Heroin is the second leading cause of deadly overdoses in the US, while cocaine has caused more drug-related fatalities than any other non-opioid.