Tuesday 17 July 2018

Cocaine now so common it is found on fingerprints of non-users

Research findings have thrown up concerns that people could be wrongly accused of drug use simply because the environment is contaminated (stock picture)
Research findings have thrown up concerns that people could be wrongly accused of drug use simply because the environment is contaminated (stock picture)

Sarah Knapton

Cocaine is now so prevalent in society that one in 10 people who has never used the drug have traces on their hands, a new study has shown.

Researchers at the University of Surrey tested the fingerprints of 50 drug-free volunteers and 15 drug users who had taken cocaine or heroin in the past 24 hours.

Around 13pc of fingerprints of those who had never used the drugs were found to contain cocaine, while 1pc contained a metabolite of heroin.

The findings throw up concerns that people could be wrongly accused of drug use simply because the environment is contaminated.

In 2015, bus driver Alan Bailes won a claim for unfair dismissal after he was sacked for failing a drugs test because he handled banknotes which contained traces of cocaine.

A study by the UK's Forensic Science Service estimated every banknote in Britain is contaminated with the class A drug within two weeks of it entering circulation.

The old banknotes which are being phased out are notorious for picking up substances, which is one of the reasons the Bank of England is moving to plastic notes.

The Drinking Water Inspectorate has also previously warned that the metabolised form of cocaine - benzoylecgonine - is present in tap water, while traces of the drugs are regularly detected in public buildings.

Dr Melanie Bailey, lecturer in forensic analysis at the University of Surrey, said: "Believe it or not, cocaine is a very common environmental contaminant - it is well known that it is present on many banknotes.

"Even so, we were surprised that it was detected in so many of our fingerprint samples."

In recent years, investigations have found evidence of cocaine use at St Paul's Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament and the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.

Chef Gordon Ramsay claimed cocaine use is so rife in the restaurant industry that diners have asked him to sprinkle the class A drug over a soufflé, and a customer at one of his venues took a plate to the toilet so they could snort lines of the drug.

Around 700,000 people aged 16-59 are estimated to take cocaine every year in Britain and about 40,000 people use heroin. However, it can be difficult to test drug users from those who have become accidentally contaminated.

To try to combat the problem of false testing, researchers at the University of Surrey have now set a 'cut-off' level, above which shows a genuine drug user.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk

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