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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