Many of us have cocaine on our hands

April 18, 2018

These days, germaphobes have resorted to fist-bumping, rather than the traditional handshake—and they may have the right idea. In fact, fully 80% of all infectious diseases are passed by human contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

But little did we know that we had even more to fear. When you shake somebody’s hand, chances are you may take away not only good feelings, but traces of feces, fecal flora, skin flora, respiratory secretions—and maybe even cocaine.

That’s because one in every eight people is walking around with traces of cocaine on his or her hands — and there’s a good chance that he or she has no idea where it came from, based on recent research at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom.

In a study published in the September 2018  edition of the journal, Clinical Chemistry, researchers from the university tested the fingerprints of 50 drug-free volunteers; as well as of 15 drug users, who testified to taking either cocaine or heroin in the previous 24 hours.

Interestingly enough 13% of the drug-free participants who self-reported having clean hands had traces of cocaine on their fingertips, while another 1%  had minute levels — about one metabolite — of heroin, the researchers found.

During a subsequent part of the experiment, the group’s drug-free volunteers shook hands with the drug users. The analysis showed that those with over one metabolite of drugs on their hands were the actual drug users, but that it was not unusual to find traces of drugs on the non-users fingers and palms.

Dr Melanie Bailey,a lecturer in Forensic Analysis at the university, commented, “Believe it or not, cocaine is a very common environmental contaminant. It is well-known that it is present on many bank notes. Even so, we were surprised that it was detected in so many of our fingerprint samples.”

Mahado Ismail, lead-author of the paper from the University of Surrey, said: “It’s clear that fingerprint testing is the future of drug-testing. There are many factors that set fingerprint testing apart: It’s non-invasive, easy to collect and you have the ability to identify the donor by using the sample. Our study will help to add another robust layer to fingerprint drug testing.”

Research contact:d.njolinjo@surrey.ac.uk

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