Effort enhances safety of drug evidence testing

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and state forensic lab researchers in Maryland and Vermont have developed a new technique designed to improve drug evidence testing safety.

Lab researchers have demonstrated a process allowing police to test whether a baggie or other package contains illegal drugs quickly and safely without having to handle any suspicious contents directly, thereby limiting the risk of accidental exposure to fentanyl and other potent drugs deemed dangerous if a small amount is accidentally inhaled.

“What’s needed is a fast and safe way to screen drug evidence so that it can be handled appropriately,” Ed Sisco, a research chemist at NIST and the study’s lead author, said.

Findings published in Forensic Science International outlined a process involving swiping the outside of a baggie then analyzing the swipe for drugs in the same way airport security officers swipe carry-on luggage to detect explosives.

Researchers determined the approach can reliably predict whether a package contains fentanyl, even if mixed with cocaine, heroin or other substances.

Amber Burns, manager of the Maryland State Police forensic chemistry lab and a co-author of the study, said she receives a high volume of rush requests and each request currently requires a full work-up of the evidence.

A Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometer will be used to do the quick screening.

“They just need to bring me the swipe, and they can be on their way in two minutes,” Burns said.

Douglas Clark

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