There's A Good Chance You Have Cocaine On Your Fingertips

By Bryan Le 03/26/18

Researchers made a shocking revelation during a study measuring the trace amounts of drugs on drug-free individuals.

an outstretched hand

New research reveals that more than 10% of drug-free individuals had traces of cocaine on their fingers.

Even if you’ve never had a whiff of cocaine, there’s a pretty solid chance it’s right at your fingertips—literally. New research published in the Journal of Clinical Chemistry found that 13% of sober participants had at least a trace of cocaine, and even heroin—even if they’ve never knowingly come into contact with it.

The study was carried out by the University of Surrey on residents of the United Kingdom. None of the amounts found on the fingertips of participants was enough to get someone high, or even be seen with the naked eye. However, the amounts were large enough to set off a sensitive measurement device called a mass spectrometer, which measures the mass of different molecules in a sample.

The study set out to measure exactly how much of an illegal drug might show up on a drug test taken by someone who, to the best of their knowledge, has lived a life completely free of drugs. These trace amounts of drugs may be detected in a person’s fingerprints, and, if authorities can’t be sure of a baseline amount of drugs present on a sober person’s fingertips, be used in court against that person.

The cocaine contamination persists even after washing hands. Researchers have known a long time that trace amounts of drugs like heroin and cocaine are everywhere.

“Think of cocaine on paper money,” Rolf Halden, the director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State University, explained to Live Science. “We know that a lot of currency is contaminated with cocaine.”

Halden has done research that measures how much drugs a given community takes—not by survey, which are susceptible to lies, but by testing the trace amounts of drugs in the community’s sewer system. He believes that fingerprint analysis of trace amounts of drugs, if the technique pans out, could be used as a non-invasive form of drug testing compared to urine or hair testing. However, he acknowledges the test would have to be controlled for environmental variables.

“If I'm a lawyer and my client tested for drugs this way, this would be an easy way out [of a conviction],” he explained. “I predict it could be potentially helpful [for drug testing], but it would not very rapidly replace other types of testing, like bodily fluids.”

He warns that trace amounts of drugs should be expected pretty much anywhere, both fingertips and plumbing alike.

“We also can detect a lot of prescription drugs in drinking water,” Halden said. “There [are] a few molecules in there—enough for us to detect them as analytical chemists, but not enough to have a measurable impact on people.”

The amounts are incredibly low, detectable only by the sensitive instruments of modern chemists. No one is getting high from fingertips or drinking water.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter