Cocaine is not the world’s most subtle drug—nobody is that excited about the latest episode of American Crime—but testing for it can nonetheless be difficult.
Cocaine is fleeting, see. The drug is water-soluble. Evidence of its use is literally pissed away within a few days at most. Even so, if you’re in the throes of a high—and hello, close-talker, it appears that you are—it’s fairly obvious, and if someone needed pharmacological evidence of your chemical stimulation, that would be the window.
Not good enough?
Then rejoice at the news from the United Kingdom’s University of Surrey, where scientists say they’ve devised a fingerprint test that can accurately detect recent, active cocaine use—and it can do so within 30 seconds, according to an article detailing the findings first published in the journal Clinical Chemistry.
As the UK Telegraph reports, the test is essentially a fingerprint scan—or, rather, an analysis of what’s inside your body using mass spectrometry (the same class of technology used to determine the potency and purity of cannabis). They swab your finger, they see what’s on it—and presto!
But are you a neatnik? Sorry, they have you beat: The technology is supposed to work to 99 percent accuracy “even after subjects have washed their hands.” This is because the test doesn’t detect cocaine crumbs on your greasy paws—it detects cocaine metabolites on your blood. Those, no soap can wash away.
Cocaine users excrete trace amounts of the compounds benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine as they metabolize cocaine, with the chemicals present in their fingerprint residue.
Scientists and law-enforcement are absolutely thrilled at the news, which could mean the end for saliva and urine tests, which require lengthy processing and can be prone to false positives. Also, no need to handle pee and spit, which are gross. It would also mean the end of being able to cheat to pass a drug test.
For those of us concerned with the drug war and the way it’s been waged, this is a bit of a mixed bag. Accurate testing is good, if there’s going to be testing—which begs the central question: What’s the point of a drug test?
Is it to determine intoxication as to keep the streets safe? Sure, that’s acceptable. Drunk-driving is a huge issue, and roadside Breathalyzer tests have been shown to cut down on drunk-driving deaths.
Is it to deny employment or government benefits? That’s how certain (Republicans) want to use drug-testing in the United States—and as per the Telegraph, that’s scientists’ fancy.
The team behind it say that as well as being used by traffic police, the technology could be used to fight the growing problem of work-place drug abuse.
As everyone knows, drug testing at work corresponds to the type of work being done. White-collar workers are rarely made to submit to having their bodily fluids checked for the right to shuffle paper around. Laborers, disposable workers… it’s time to pee and detection times can be up to 3 months for marijuana, so blue collar workers continue to be paranoid.
The secret will be in how this drug testing technology is applied, but since people are involved, there’s not much hope for altruism here. In essence, what’s happened is that scientists have mastered a way to more rapidly and accurately invade your privacy—and to also match your drug habits with your fingerprint. Not to get all InfoWars on you, but that’ll look great in whatever national database our betters are cooking up.