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Forensic Magazine August 16,2021: Touch DNA from Pills Can Snare Drug Makers, Dealers

In drug investigations, evidentiary items such as weapons, clothes and drug bags are commonly processed in search of trace DNA from illicit drug manufacturers and dealers. And while chemical drug profiling is incredibly common and successful, it can run into problems.

For example, when active ingredients are prepared in large batches, there is the possibility that multiple chemically identical profiles are present in the illicit drug marketplace—providing law enforcement no unique information they can track or leverage. That’s why Australian forensic scientists are turning to touch DNA.

“To reveal additional trafficking and networking detail, new approaches to the examination of drug preparations are required,” the researchers with Flinders University write in their new study.

While the new investigation is based on touch DNA, it’s ultimate focus is DNA found in a very specific place: drug capsules (or pills). The use of drug capsules for illicit drugs, especially ecstasy, has ridden steadily over the past 10 years. For example, according to Australia’s Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System, capsules were used by 83% of drug-taking participants in 2020.

In the study, published in Forensic Science International: Genetics, two participants handled three types of drug capsules for 15 seconds. Before handling, the participants washed their hands without soap, and then touched the bottom and lid of a capsule for 15 seconds before joining them together and placing in a Ziplock bag. The two participants did this 10 times for each capsule type, with at least one hour between each sample. more

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