Forensic Drug Testing and Scheduling

Illegal drugs are the source of a great number of problems. Crimes like burglary, assault, fraud, homicide, kidnapping, and human trafficking can all stem from the drug trade. Forensic drug chemistry helps identify the different types of “illegal drugs, explosives, and poisons” that exist (“A Simplified Guide”). To be classified as an illegal drug, a substance “causes addiction, habituation, or a marked change in consciousness, has limited or no medical use and is listed on one of the five schedules within the U.S.C. Controlled Substances Act.”

Two main tests are used to identify a compound thought to be drugs. These are presumptive and confirmatory tests. Presumptive testing is usually done by “law enforcement officers or in the laboratory” (“A Simplified Guide”). Usually this type of test is colorimetric, meaning that the test will turn a certain color based on if the drug is present in the sample or not. Confirmatory testing “uses instrumental analysis to positively identify the contents of submitted material.” This type of testing can reveal the purity of a substance. Some drugs are cut with other substances, but a purer sample can carry a more serious sentence in court.

Gloved hand holding a plastic bag with positive dark blue color result fluid
An example of colorimetric testing

Illegal substances are placed on the Controlled Substances Act mentioned above. There are five classes, all with different levels of strength, dependency, potential for abuse, and use for medical purposes.

Schedule I- “no medical usage, high potential for abuse” (heroin, LSD, MDMA)

Schedule II- “severely restricted medical use, high potential for abuse” (cocaine, methamphetamine)

Schedule III- “currently accepted medical use, moderate potential for abuse” (steroids, barbiturates)

Schedule IV- “widely used for medical purposes, low potential for abuse” (Xanax, tranquilizers)

Schedule V- “widely used for medical purposes, very low potential for abuse” (Robitussin, Tylenol with codeine)

Synthetic and prescription drugs can also cause poisoning and death. Synthetic drugs are highly addictive and synthetic marijuana (“spice”) is the “second most abused drug” among high school students (“A Simplified Guide”). Prescription drugs cause more deaths from overdoses than all “other drugs combined” (“A Simplified Guide”). Prescription drugs can be just as dangerous as any other drug if they are taken by the person the medication is not prescribed for.

The drug trade causes a huge problem for law enforcement as many users and dealers resort to serious crimes to get the substances they want. The use of drugs should be taken seriously and should not abused.

Source: “A Simplified Guide to Forensic Drug Chemistry.” Forensic Science Simplified. 2013. Web. Jan 29 2015.

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Digital Evidence

Digital evidence is any information or data “stored on, received or transmitted by an electrical device” (“A Simplified Guide”). The launch of the Internet created a whole new platform for criminals to transmit and share illegal activities. The Internet made it possible for criminals to hack into virtually any agency or website they want to. This new capability created a challenge for investigators to keep up with any new technological advances used to steal anything from money to identities.

Computers and cell phones are part of the ever-growing world of digital evidence. Both can be used to store, transmit, and receive any amount of information. Information can also be removed or deleted from the devices.

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Examination of devices suspected or known to be involved in criminal behavior must be carefully examined. The data stored on them can be easily manipulated, lost, or contaminated if the examiner is not careful and if the device is not transported correctly. All material on the device is placed on another clean storage device, and other precautionary measures are taken to ensure that the information on the device cannot be manipulated by an outside source. After this, the examiners go through the files and anything that is stored on the device. They can go through “the system of Internet addresses, email header information, time stamps on messaging and other encrypted data” to figure out what the owner of the device was doing and create a timeline of activity (“A Simplified Guide”).

Digital evidence can be a vital part of an investigation, especially if that was a main form of communication between criminals. A perpetrator can unknowingly give investigators exactly what they need to put the criminal in jail and sometimes, put an end to a crime ring or stop a crime before it happens.

Source: “A Simplified Guide to Digital Evidence.” Forensic Science Simplified. 2013. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.

Explosives

Explosive devices can be left in virtually any package in any place. There are people trained to respond to potential bomb threats, referred to as the bomb squad. The bomb squad will disarm, dispose of, or declare a bomb safe. In the case that the bomb detonated, these professionals will use clues left at the scene to “help identify the type of device used and gather all available physical evidence or witness testimony that could help lead to the bomber” (“A Simplified Guide”). Any part of the bomb the investigators find (circuit board, hair, etc.) could assist in leading back to the person that put the bomb together.

The two types of bombs used are explosive or incendiary, or can be a combination of both. Explosives use materials meant to explode, and incendiary are meant to cause a fire. The speed of an explosive determines its classification. Explosives that react faster than the speed of sound (dynamite, TNT, C-4, acetone peroxide) are strictly controlled so they are not as easy to obtain. Low explosives (gunpowder, fireworks) burn slower, and react at less than the speed of sound, so these are actually called deflagrations instead of detonations when they are set off.

Some common explosive devices are pipe bombs, improvised exploding devices (IEDs), and Molotov cocktails, which start fires upon impact. Any of these will leave evidence at a scene, which is then collected and examined. Evidence can also be collected from the bodies of victims or the suicide bomber responsible for the explosion. This evidence is carefully examined by trained teams to try to link the bomb back to the owner. In the case of terrorist bombs, the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC), run by the FBI, is called in to investigate.

Explosives can cause major damage and result in injury or the loss of life. Any bomb threat should be taken seriously, and if a detonation cannot be prevented, professionals are capable of examining the evidence to bring the perpetrator to justice as quickly as possible.

Source: “A Simplified Guide to Explosives Analysis.” Forensic Science Simplified.” 2013. Web. 10 January 2016.