Dr Melanie Bailey is a fellow of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) at the University of Surrey. Together, with her team, Dr. Bailey has identified differences between the fingerprints of people who touched cocaine compared with those who have ingested the drug, even if the hands are not washed, according to UK Research and Innovation.

Working in collaboration with the National Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry Imaging at the National Physical Laboratory and Ionoptika Ltd., the researchers have found a way to use mass spectrometry imaging tools and apply it to the detection of cocaine and its metabolites in fingerprints.

Cocaine and its primary metabolite, benzoylecgonine, can be imaged in fingerprints produced after either ingestion or contact with cocaine using these techniques. Images of cocaine and its metabolite in a fingerprint are analyzed and the relationship between these molecules and the fingerprint ridges are explored. It is then possible to tell the difference between a person who has ingested a drug and someone who has only touched it.