New fingerprint test can catch heroin users by detecting it on skin, even after washing hands

It can also help doctors monitor whether patients are taking the medicines prescribed to them.


                            New fingerprint test can catch heroin users by detecting it on skin, even after washing hands

A new fingerprint test could help in the battle against drug addiction. By just examining the fingerprints, the test can detect traces of heroin in individuals who have used the drug, even in those who have tried to wipe out traces of the drug by washing their hands. It can also help doctors find out if their patients are skipping medication.

Further, the technique is sensitive enough to identify drug users from non-drug users, including those who may have physical contact with the drug users, says the team from University of Surrey.

"Our team here at the University of Surrey believes that the technology we are developing will make our communities safer and shorten the route for those who need help to beat their addictions. We also believe the technology has scope in other areas, such as confirming whether a patient is taking their medication," says study author Dr. Melanie Bailey from the University of Surrey.

Currently, people are screened for drug use by testing urine, blood, saliva, hair and breath, to name a few. (Getty Images)

Detecting drug addiction early is important to reduce risks and improve the quality of life. Currently, people are screened for drug use by testing urine, blood, saliva, hair and breath, to name a few. This technology by the University of Surrey team is non-invasive, sensitive and requires no body fluids. Our results have shown that this innovative technology is sensitive enough to identify class A drugs in several scenarios, even after people have washed their hands, explains Catia Costa from the University of Surrey.

The fingerprint test builds on a technique that can accurately identify compounds in a sample. Through this technology, the team could detect heroin, even after the body breaks it down into another compound such as 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-AM).

To test the efficacy and sensitivity of the fingerprint test, the researchers recruited people seeking treatment at drug rehabilitation clinics who had testified to taking heroin or cocaine during the last 24 hours. Fingerprints were collected from each finger of the right hand twice. After collecting the prints for the first time, volunteers were asked to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water and then wear nitrile gloves for a period of time. Following this, the experts took another set of fingerprints from the patients.

The team then compared these with samples from 50 drug non-users who had come into contact with the drug or the users in some form or the other.

The technology found traces of heroin in non-drug users. What is more, they could identify traces of heroin and 6-AM in every scenario the researchers devised - whether someone directly touched the drug, handled it and then thoroughly washed their hands, or had come into contact with heroin via shaking someone else's hand.

But the test is more sensitive towards drug users. It can pick out individuals who have used the drug from those who had just shaken hands with the drug users. They found certain compounds that were unique to them, absent in non-drug users.

When heroin is ingested by the user, the body breaks it down to compounds such as morphine, noscapine and acetylcodeine. By detecting the broken down compounds of heroin,  along with heroin and 6-AM, the team could distinguish those who have used the drug from those who have not.

The study has been published in The Journal of Analytical Toxicology.

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