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Landscape Study of Field Portable Devices for Presumptive Drug Testing

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2018

This report informs the forensic community about the current “landscape” of field-portable devices and techniques used in presumptive drug testing.


 It also discusses the benefits, limitations, and use requirements of various technologies used in presumptive drug testing, including mass spectrometry (MS), ion mobility spectrometry (IMS), Raman spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy (IR), and color-based testing techniques. Potential benefits of such technology include instrument versatility, which includes the identification of many unknown substances;  provision of  unambiguous test results; less vulnerability to false negatives; scanning through clear packaging, which improves safety; and use in chemical identification in the field other than drugs. Factors that influence presumptive drug testing in the field are identified and discussed, including the prevalence of novel psychoactive substances, drug mixtures, and user safety. The successful adoption of these technologies in a field setting is reported, and emerging technologies that could impact the future of presumptive drug testing are described. Potential challenges of adopting such field portable devices are discussed, including high up-front cost, some training for producing accurate performance, repeated use that requires regular maintenance, limited mixture interpretation, and dependence on an up-to-date library. This report advises that available field-testing technologies each have their strengths and weaknesses, such that no one type of device will meet the needs of all jurisdictions. Agencies interested in implementing a portable field-testing instrument to expand beyond color-based testing should consider application-specific factors related to the intended application, as well as the specific circumstances of the agency. An exhibit provides an overview of available technologies for presumptive testing and some important considerations for purchasing and implementing these devices in the field. 10 exhibits and 36 references