Published: 16 February 2017

New diagnostic tool for detecting drugs

Academics in the University of Surrey’s Department of Chemistry have been developing new tests to detect drugs, firstly using fingerprints and now developing a portable device for drug-driving testing.

The team have recently developed a new diagnostic test initially for cocaine and benzoylecgonine (the main metabolite for cocaine) using a compact spectrometer. The devices currently used to test for drugs at the roadside can give false positive readings, meaning someone could be arrested for drug-driving when they are innocent.

To combat this, the Surrey team have developed a new portable system based on a technique called mass spectrometry that is much more reliable. This test is also able to detect low levels of cocaine and how much cocaine has been ingested. As Surrey’s Mahado Ismail explains:

This new method, which extracts analytes from a surface and separates them using chromatography, has been shown to provide a sensitive, accurate result.

The technique offers a rapid test solution with many potential applications including roadside testing of motorists by police regarding drug-driving offences. The new portable system is small enough to be used on the roadside and costs one tenth of the price of the lab-based systems that are presently used for confirmation testing. Such a technique could save considerable time and money for the police, as well as ensuring safer roads for the public.

With the drug-testing market worth several of billions pounds worldwide, the impact of this research could be far-reaching with potential uptake in other sectors such as drug testing in the workplace, prisons, courts or the probation service.

For further information, visit Dr Melanie Bailey’s academic profile or read an article on The Conservation website.

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