Law Enforcement Gets Big Boost in Illegal Drug Identification
Written by Dale Garrison   

Illegal drugs sold on the streets of America are rarely pure. After all, if you can cut heroin 50/50 with baby powder, you double your profits. The same math works for virtually every substance.

One problem is that dealers rarely use baby powder today. They use everything from other drugs to legal substances that range from the benign to deadly.

Their creativity can be surprising. Cocaine, for instance, is often cut with baby teething-pain relievers, which not only physically resemble some forms of cocaine, but also cause gum and nose numbing, making users think they are getting 100 percent of the real thing.

Such cutting agents, whether for cocaine, heroin, meth, or designer drugs, are so useful in the illegal trade that they have in some cases developed black markets of their own. It’s big business and a big part of the illicit drug trade.

For law enforcement personnel, identification of cutting mixtures isn’t especially critical at the arrest scene. Although it might help to know the presence of anything dangerous, the key information for an arresting officer is usually the presence of illegal substances. Otherwise, there is likely to be no arrest.

At other times, cutting agents and their identification can be important tools for law enforcement. They might help investigators identify a specific dealer or lead to a larger arrest. This is because dealers are as habit-prone as anyone, and they tend to use the same cutting materials repeatedly. Identifying cutting agents might also help alert officers and the public to dangerous trends, such as cutting heroin with the synthetic opioid, fentynal, which is approximately 50-100 times more potent than morphine and is suspected of causing many recent overdose deaths.

In the Beginning
Of course, none of this is new in itself. Illegal drug distributors have for years added material to drugs for several profit-making benefits because cutting agents have benefits of their own. One of the most discussed right now involves increasing a drug’s potency. Fentanyl, for instance, can be used to give diluted heroin a bigger “kick.”

Dealers sometimes mix substances such as cocaine (a stimulant) and heroin (a depressant) to produce a surge of euphoria or mask that a drug has been cut. Dealers might use a numbing agent such as lidocaine or caffeine because they do produce reactions that to some degree mimic the effect of illegal drugs. Mixing creatine with cocaine can visually mimic crack rocks, at a much lower cost. Dealers will even lace already illegal substances with meth in order to create more powerful addictive effects.

One of the ways this becomes significant for law enforcement involves dealer preferences for cutting agents. Like addicts, dealers are also creatures of habit—at least in terms of their favorite cutting agents. They usually use the same one repeatedly. But, if law enforcement can identify the cutting agent, they can often identify the dealer.

One of the most useful tools in this regard is the line of Raman spectrometers from Centice Corporation. With recently updated software, Centice currently offers the only Raman spectrometers that also deliver mixture analysis for law enforcement, telling them both the illegal substances and cutting agents that are in the mixture. This can be done in minutes, “on the scene,” rather than waiting up to six months or longer for crime lab results. By that time, the dealer may have moved, changed mixes or even killed people with bad cutting agents.

Still More Advanced

This screen capture demonstrates the interface for Version 5.5 of Centice’s drug identification software. The release includes 64 new additions to the Centice Narcotic Library, including synthetic phenethylamines (psychotic stimulants), cathinones (bath salts), and synthetic cannabinoids, as well as new cutting agents and precursors.

This laser technology itself is not new. Using a laser device to create and measure a substance’s reflected energy pattern or “signature”has been available for years. Since every substance will have its own unique signature, the technology has become useful in everything from healthcare to engineering and law enforcement.

Where Centice has an advantage is in their custom database of signatures, which was recently updated with 64 new substances, including cathinones, cannabinoids, illicits, phenethylamines, and cutting agents/precursors. That brings the total number of narcotic substances and cutting agents to more than 200. Centice also has a prescription library of more than 3,500 drugs.

Available in Version 5.5 of the Drug Identification Software, the update allows law enforcement to stay on top of the fast-changing world of cutting agents and designer drugs. “We talk to people in public safety every day, helping us discover the latest drugs and illicit substances entering the market,”said John Goehrke, CEO of Centice. “The significant additions of new illicit substances highlight Centice’s continued commitment to deliver the most comprehensive databases for drug identification.”

The technology even identifies prescription pills that are broken, scraped or crushed, as well as mixtures in illicit substances. And all of this is done without damaging the sample, another advantage for law enforcement.

Front Line Help
Equally positive is that all of this is available in an extremely portable package. In February 2014, the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) reported the results of a recent evaluation of the Centice Mobile Field Lab-3000 (MFL-3000). Although NFSTC noted that operators should be carefully trained in the equipment’s use and understand the limits inherent in all Raman instruments, they found the technology to be a powerful law enforcement tool: “Its portability, quickness, easy-to-use soft-ware, and its ability to identify pharmaceutical preparations renders it extremely valuable to law enforcement.”

About the Author
This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it is a freelance writer in Liberty, Mo.

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