Raman spectroscopy among techniques to detect cocaine in alcohol—through the bottle

Oct. 1, 2010
England and Switzerland--Raman spectroscopy is among two techniques that can non-destructively identify low levels of cocaine smuggled in alcohol bottles.

England and Switzerland--Wiley reports that in two landmark studies published in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis (DTA), U.K. and Swiss research teams have developed two techniquesone of them being Raman spectroscopyproven to identify dissolved cocaine in bottles of wine or rum. These tools will allow customs officials to quickly identify bottles being used to smuggle cocaine, without the need to open or disturb the container.

It is currently impossible for customs to check alcohols for cocaine without physically opening the bottle and causing damage, which is difficult in large or expensive alcohol shipments. Furthermore, a non-invasive spectroscopy approach has the advantage that it would not arouse the smuggler's suspicions and therefore would allow investigators to track the recipient.

The Raman spectroscopy study was carried out by researchers from the Universities of Bradford and Leeds in the U.K. and used a portable scanner to test cocaine dissolved in ethanol and several branded light and dark rums, in a variety of colored glass containers; clear, brown, light green, and dark green. The cocaine was detectable in all liquids tested and through all of the glass colors.

"Until now it has been difficult to detect cocaine in liquid form in these environments. However our study shows that using an analytical technique such as Raman spectroscopy can successfully detect the presence of these drugs without removing specimens from their containers," said Tasnim Munshi, one of the researchers based at the University of Bradford. "We believe a portable Raman instrument will prove vital in the fight against illegal drug smuggling by allowing for the fast and effective screening of different solutions over a very short space of time."

The second technique, magnetic resonance spectroscopy, was carried out by a Swiss team, led by Giulio Gambarota of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne. The researchers used an MRI scanner to test wine bottles contaminated by cocaine. The MRI scanner is not portable but can test large cargos at once in a few minutes, including set up and evaluation of the results.

"By fostering collaboration between police or customs officials and a local medical department, this technique can be used to evaluate large numbers of bottles in a short time, giving information not only that there is another substance in the alcohol as with current scanning techniques, but exactly what that substance is," said Gambarota. "This method could also be used in other sorts of smuggling where drugs are dissolved into liquids, so there are many further opportunities for use."

SOURCE: Wiley; www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/PressRelease/pressReleaseId-83337.html

About the Author

Gail Overton | Senior Editor (2004-2020)

Gail has more than 30 years of engineering, marketing, product management, and editorial experience in the photonics and optical communications industry. Before joining the staff at Laser Focus World in 2004, she held many product management and product marketing roles in the fiber-optics industry, most notably at Hughes (El Segundo, CA), GTE Labs (Waltham, MA), Corning (Corning, NY), Photon Kinetics (Beaverton, OR), and Newport Corporation (Irvine, CA). During her marketing career, Gail published articles in WDM Solutions and Sensors magazine and traveled internationally to conduct product and sales training. Gail received her BS degree in physics, with an emphasis in optics, from San Diego State University in San Diego, CA in May 1986.

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