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Drugs law: Drug use can be revealed by fingerprints

It could soon take police officers just minutes to determine if a person is under the influence of drugs, simply by taking their fingerprints.

Intelligent Fingerprinting, a spin-out company of the University of East Anglia, specialises in detecting and identifying drugs. They have developed a device that can pick up almost trace amounts of broken-down drugs that have been secreted through the sweat pores in fingertips.

Initially used to detect nicotine, the device is now capable of detecting various different drugs including cocaine, methadone and cannabis.

The device works by applying gold nanoparticles coated with antibodies to a fingerprint. The antibodies stick to antigens on specific metabolites in the fingerprint. The antibodies have fluorescent dyes attached to them, allowing them to be visible.

The technique, called illicit drug assays, will be available later this year and will enable police to more easily prove if a motorist is drug driving.

Current drug driving tests are not wholly reliable as they are easily contaminated and often not sensitive enough.

If a police officer suspects a motorist of drug driving, they may carry out a field impairment test at the roadside, or at a police station. They will examine the driver's eyes and give them physical tasks.

For more conclusive results, they will most likely conduct urine or blood tests which are invasive tests, unlike the new device that is quick, easy to use, effective and only involves taking a fingerprint.

If you are caught drug driving, you could face a fine of up to £5,000, losing your licence and imprisonment.

The device was made public at the International Crime Science Conference at University College London in July.

Related links:
Read more on the story (New Scientist)
Find out if the police are allowed to keep your fingerprints (FindLaw)
Find local criminal solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)