This post was originally published on June 17, 2015.
Researchers at the University of Surrey are claiming there’s a new drug testing kit on the block, and it doesn’t require an ounce of bodily fluid. It does, however, require a boatload of cash and enough space to accommodate a washer-dryer unit. The kit is basically a very large mass spectrometer, which is an instrument that measures mass-to-charge ratio and the number of gas-phase ions in order to determine what chemicals are present in a solid, liquid or gas sample. If you were terrible in chemistry class like me, I’m sorry for the headache I just induced. For you science enthusiasts, you can learn more about mass spectrometry here. Anyway…
As is often the case with any groundbreaking machine in its infancy, the device that detects drug use via a person’s fingerprint is very bulky (think of the first computer, for example…okay, full disclosure, I learned that through watching Mad Men but whatever, you get the idea). It’s also very expensive, a whopping £400,000 which, at the time of this publishing, translates to roughly $615,000. Despite those drawbacks, the University of Surrey scientists who are developing the kit do believe this concept could be the future of drug testing, especially since the ole’ thumbprint method makes falsifying drug tests a lot more tricky. While passing a Urine Analysis with flying colors thanks to the help of a drug-free pal’s piss is always an option, you can’t escape your own fingerprint. That’s like a permanent identification stamp from God (and the government if you wanna get into Big Brother talk).
According to the study, the finger print drug detector operates by recognizing benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine—both a byproduct of cocaine that’s broken down in the system. Apparently, these two chemicals are emitted through sweat, which transfers from the fingerprint to the paper.
Thus far, the research team seems to indicate the mass spectrometer test kit is only effective for testing cocaine usage. Does that mean someone could smoke a whole bunch of meth and trip every day on E and that won’t show up? Assuming it does only work for cocaine detection, it definitely doesn’t justify its current cost.
I say that at this point, it’s better to continue relying on the big three: urine, blood and saliva. (Sorry, scientific drug test talk can get really gross, really fast.) Of course, since we’re talking about something that’s only a work in progress, this round of experimentation might just be the example for how cocaine specifically can be traced. God only knows what chemicals combust when a person is smoking crank.
While this innovative cocaine-spotting technology will benefit those administering the drug tests (one less day of having to deal with another human’s bodily fluid is always a win in my book), the loved ones of addicts will surely benefit the most. But the best possible outcome of this new age, chemically driven fingerprint test is that drug users will have more incentive to stay clean since their chances of getting busted will increase however many fold.
Those benefits are possible for the latter two if the system creators are able to reach their long-term goal of making this thing portable. Their process, however, is somewhat limited due to the high cost of the machine. Assuming they can find more funding, I’m all for it. Continuing to develop the technology that will reduce the cost of efficient methods for keeping addicts drug-free seems like a no-brainer.