News

Not only are our customers in the news - they make the news! We contribute to our customer's success with the very best science and technology that never stops advancing.  

Here we capture the more significant and interesting news stories we've been associated with along with our own.

14-11-16

Geographical distribution of cocaine on banknotes in England and Wales

Mass Spec Analytical maintains the worlds largest database of illicit drugs on bank notes. This new study looks at what has changed since the database was first created in 2004 and whether location matters

A new study is to appear in Forensic Science International entitled Distribution of cocaine on banknotes in general circulation in England and Wales (C.G.G. Aitken,  A.  Wilson,  R.  Sleeman,  B.E.M.  Morgan, J.  Huish). It concludes that there is no variation in the distribution of illicit drugs - cocaine in the case of the study - on banknotes in general circulation. The study was conducted in response to a 2014 court ruling (R. v. Rashid and others, [T20147216] (19th January 2015) and to review the findings of a similar study conducted in 2007. That study spawned the Mass Spec Analytical database of drug traces on banknotes, believed to be the largest of its kind in the world. It has been continuously updated weekly (at time of writing more than 118,000 banknotes tested) with new data since its creation in 2004.

Whilst the 2007 study is a very good investigation of the factors influencing the contamination of UK banknotes with drugs of abuse, it was seen to be useful in response to frequent questions in court to revisit the study in today’s context.

Following discussions with experts at the Bank of England, it was learnt that more than 75% of all banknotes issued are circulated via automatic telling machines (ATMs), the rest goes to banks, Post Offices and other outlets. Money is paid by businesses into banks, and this is typically returned to one of approximately 20 −25 cash redistribution centres within England. Certain larger retailers also send money directly to these centres. At the centres, money is sorted and unfit notes are weeded out and sent back to the Bank of England for processing and destruction.

For this study, access to unfit notes was requested from the Bank of England. It is not known whether or not banknotes continually build up contamination every time they pass through the banking system, or whether they reach an equilibrium state whereby the amount of drug abraded off is equal to the amount deposited, or whether some other explanation needs to be invoked for the quantity of drugs on the notes. However, it is reasonable to assume that older notes are likely to be the most worn, and therefore most likely to be declared Unfit, and it is also reasonable to assume that older notes are likely to have had the most exposure to ‘environmental contamination’ with cocaine.

It is always possible to argue that more is better. However, the data collected and analysed in the 2007 study and the results of this new study provide evidence that the current database of banknotes used by Mass Spec Analytical to represent banknotes in general circulation has been confirmed as fit for purpose.    The new study also noted that, whilst it may be true, as noted in R. v. Rashid and others (p.31), that the quantities of cocaine on banknotes have increased in the time since the study reported on in 2007 was conducted, this current study provides no evidence to suggest the variation in quantities of cocaine has changed.

The study is available here.

01-04-16

New Study Demonstrates Chromotography-Free Substance Identification

A recently published paper demonstrates the capability of using tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) for the identification of substances of abuse and related compounds without the need for chromatography. The elimination of chromatography is not only cost-effective because of reduced sample work-up and consumables, but also reduces the environmental impact of solvents.

The paper, entitled ‘Rapid identification of seized controlled substances and related compounds by tandem mass spectrometry without chromatography,’ reveals how two chromatography-free techniques were used to screen for a large suite of compounds using a rapid, inexpensive technique: a thermal desorber coupled to a tandem mass spectrometer operated in selected reaction monitoring (SRM) mode. Solutions were introduced via autosampler, whilst powdered solid materials were directly analysed by dipping a toothpick into the powder and inserting this into the thermal desorber. The results were compared with those obtained by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).

MS/MS was shown to be capable of the identification of the same drugs within the samples as the conventional method of GC/MS, but with better sensitivity and shorter analysis times. By eliminating chromatography, a higher laboratory throughput is achievable with simplified sample preparation.

The technique could be further validated with reference to an increasing database of MS/MS spectra to help to identify an expanding suite of compounds.

The paper, published in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 15 April 2016 is authored by CM Fletcher, Department of Physical Sciences, University of Kent at Canterbury, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, UK, and R Sleeman, Mass Spec Analytical Ltd, Building 20F, Golf Course Lane, Filton, Bristol, BS34 7RP, UK.

You can read more about thermal desorption here.

27-07-15

Mass Spec Finds £5m of Hidden Cocaine

Mass Spec explains to BBC news how £5million worth of invisible particles of cocaine is distributed on banknotes in everyday circulation.

Mass Spec's pioneering work on banknote analysis led the BBC to our offices to learn how we’ve managed to compile a vast database of drugs on banknotes. Virtually all of the bank notes in circulation in the world today have illicit drugs on them and if you removed all the cocaine off of the banknotes in circulation in the UK for instance, you would have collected 160kg with a street value of £5million!

By using their banknote database as a comparison tool, mass spec can put the findings of drugs from seized banknotes into much needed context.  The on-going use of this forensic approach has assisted in the seizure of hundreds of millions of pounds, and the successful prosecution of individuals connected to drug trafficking, and money laundering associated with the illicit drug trade.

Mass Spec uses the same approach to design and build a mobile mass spectrometer based contraband detector, which is primarily deployed for explosives detection. Have you ever wondered how the police and security authorities secure high-risk events? Mass Spec has one of the first mobile mass spectrometer detectors to be developed in the world and is now used by law enforcement and government bodies to ensure that public buildings, stadiums and transport can be tested for the presence of explosives and other hazardous substances.

You can see the BBC clip here

Image Credit: © Lance Hiley, Mass Spec

25-06-15

Mass Spec Evidence Still Proving a Success – Take a look at our last 6 months!

Mass Spec has supported the police, prosecution and defence in several evidence projects in the first six months of 2015

Mass Spec has supported the police, prosecution and defence in several drugs on money evidence projects in 2015.  Mass Spec experts have presented evidence in court six times this year and have provided evidential statements for 15 others where their attendance was not challenged.  

Whilst the evidence that Mass Spec provides is not the only deciding factor, it is a significant and reliable element that quite often shifts the balance in favour of the party presenting it.  In a great deal of cases, we have not even been asked to attend as the evidence was accepted or guilty pleas put forward. 

One of the more notable cases this year includes the successful prosecution of two men sentenced for Conspiracy to supply of class A in Southampton as reported by the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit.

Another case reported by Dorset police explains how a group of five operating a drug supply operation across Dorset and Liverpool was quashed when drugs and cash were seized after an intelligence operation in Dorset was then traced to operations in Liverpool leading to 5 arrestts. The gang were sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison at Bournemouth Crown Court in May 2015.

Another success was recorded by the Devon and Cornwall police force when a couple were found to be laundering drugs money as reported by the Mirror Newspaper. A couple were flagged to police after bank staff noticed a number of suspicious cash deposits. Upon investigation the couple in question were found to have stashes of cash and class A drugs.

Mass Spec is ready to work with investigating agencies, prosecution and defence councils to produce the most robust evidence possible. Contact us to discuss your needs or challenges and join the many happy customers on our client list.

 

Image Credit: © Paulsmann | Dreamstime.com - Drugs Money Health Finance 4 Photo

19-06-15

Designer drug detection variants still detectable

Selling or possessing mephedrone and methylone, also known as "miaow" and "plant food", was made illegal in 2010. Variations on these drugs have surfaced recently but can be detected quickly using Mass Spectrometry

With news that there may be an increase in ‘home-made’ morphine, with the development of a ‘home-brew kit’, Mass Spec has the in-house expertise and equipment to quickly analyse multiple drugs and are always happy to assist with any enquiries as a result of new trends illicit substances.

One of the more recent ‘designer’ drugs Mass Spec has been asked to consider is mephedrone (not to be confused with methadone), which is a cathinone type substance and controlled under the MDA.  Mass Spec validated this new drug quickly and efficiently when it emerged a few years ago and has since assisted in many court cases involving illegal use and distribution of the substance (drug).

If you have any types of drugs or cutting agents that you may wish us to analyse for you, please contact us for our expert opinion and quotation.  We already have a multitude of compounds validated on our systems and ready to go!

Image Credit: © Rolf52 | Dreamstime.com - Haight-Ashbury Morning Photo

 

16-06-15

Guilty or Not Guilty?

Dr. Richard Sleeman, Scientific Director weighs-up the odds that likelihood ratio's are here to stay.

When evaluating evidence for use in a court of law, evidential data are presented together with two competing propositions which may account for this data: one from the prosecution and one from the defence. The aim of the court is to evaluate which of the two propositions is more likely. In other words, is the probability of the prosecution hypothesis given the evidence bigger than the probability of the defence hypothesis given the evidence?

We want to know whether the ratio of these probabilities is greater than one (overall support for the prosecution hypothesis), or less than one (support for the defence).

This ratio is known as the Likelihood Ratio and it is meant to represent  the odds before seeing any evidence to the odds taking the evidence into account.

What is the theory and models behind this approach? Dr. Richard Sleeman explains further in the attached paper from March 2015 issue of Mass Matters Magazine. 

MM-March2015-p14-v5-final-(1).pdf

Image Credit: © Aleksandar Radovanovic | Dreamstime.com 

04-06-15

Plastic banknotes won't foil justice

What does the introduction of plastic banknotes mean for trace detection of illicit drugs on money evidence?

As the introduction of plastic banknotes in Scotland has begun, England awaits the much anticipated polymer £5 note in 2016. The new bank notes are said to last 2.5 times longer and are cleaner than the paper banknotes used today.

Cleaner? What does that mean for trace detection of illicit drugs and other substances on banknotes in the future?

Mass Spec researchers are already preparing for the changes working with the Bank of England to ensure the transition from paper to plastic as smooth as possible.  We are determined to take such changes in our stride and continue with the excellent reputation we have earned helping the justice system by analysing banknotes and other items for traces of drugs.

The first challenge we have is the plastic polymer material itself. The thermal desorber that we use today for paper banknotes will be adapted for the new material and tests run to date have been successful.

One of the attractions of polymer money is that it collects fewer bacteria than paper banknotes and can even be ‘cleaned.’ A study by the University of Ballarat in Australia found that there were usually fewer bacteria on polymer bills than cotton-based ones – a health bonus for all!

However for Mass Spec, we’re not looking for bacteria but rather particles of illicit substances that link the money to drug related activities. The contact of the banknotes to the particles in question is normally a short time before they are seized; thereby eliminating any chance of the money being ‘cleaned’. In addition, large volumes of cash are inevitably going to be difficult to fully clean quickly and effectively, enabling our analysis to stand strong with many different cash seizures. Mass Spec’s tests are proving that our methods of detecting traces of substances on polymer banknotes is just as effective as those that we use on paper banknotes today.

Make sure that you’re signed up for our e mail bulletins to ensure that you keep up to date with our progress or if you have any questions on our new work, please get in touch.

Image Credit: © Janis Smits | Dreamstime.com

01-04-14

Rapid Analysis of Drugs and Explosives

Canadian Border Services Agency publishes paper advocating novel approach.

Government agencies across the globe continuously evaluate security equipment, which is employed in Drugs and Explosives detection applications. Security equipment can be broadly divided into two categories: ‘bulk’ detectors such as metal detectors or X-Ray scanners, which rely on the presence of a significant amount of a material; and ‘trace’ detectors, such as ‘sniffer’ systems, which detect the presence of minute quantities of a threat material which may remain after handling illicit materials.

Trace detectors are used for explosives detection at locations such as airports, stadia or public buildings, and for drugs detection at ports of entry or in nightclubs. Whether the need be for the detection of drugs, explosives or even chemical warfare agents, the authorities must determine the efficacy of the various solutions proposed to address terrorist or criminal threats. To do this, governments must undertake tests to determine the limit of detection of the equipment proposed to a range of target analytes.

Recent work by Tam et al of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has advocated the use of the ‘Scentinel’ system to massively reduce the time required to obtain results. Government bodies like the CBSA regularly conduct hundreds of experiments to understand the performance of the expanding number of trace detectors available commercially. New iterations of existing designs, not to mention urgent requirements to study new drugs or explosives that may come to light, exacerbate the number of experiments required.

The CBSA paper concluded that the Scentinel system desorber is highly efficient for a range of explosives, and that the results it produces are quantitative (i.e. the instrument response is directly proportional to the amount of explosive present). The CBSA confirmed that the analysis undertaken by the Scentinel takes a few minutes compared to the many hours required for conventional analysis and that no sample pre-treatment is required (no solvents, no derivatisation, or filtration).

Mass Spec Analytical Scentinel SystemThe Scentinel is designed and manufactured by Bristol based Mass Spec Analytical Ltd. The instrument is based on an ABSciex triple quadrupole tandem mass spectrometer, which has been modified to incorporate a thermal desorption sample inlet system. The device simply heats samples to evaporate the compounds of interest, and draws the vapour into the mass spectrometer for analysis.