A laboratory in a briefcase
19 March 2009 - Drug traffickers transit through some of the world's most remote regions. What if border guards catch someone transporting suspicious-looking substances in the mountains of Afghanistan or the vast expanses of Central Asia? They must prove that the consignment contains illicit drugs but the nearest laboratory may be thousands of kilometres away. Without proof, they usually have to let the suspect go.
UNODC can help. To conduct spot checks, it has developed field test-kits "in a briefcase". "UNODC test kits are intended to provide law enforcement officers with rapid and simple colour tests for the preliminary field identification of drugs and precursors most commonly encountered in the illicit traffic" says Justice Tettey, Chief of the Laboratory and Scientific Section.
Drug kits contain chemicals known as reagents for the identification of cannabis, opium, morphine as well as cocaine and heroin. Precursor kits test for substances, such as acetic anhydride and potassium permanganate, which are used as starter materials for drugs. Made of shock-proof and water-resistant plastic, the rugged blue "briefcases" stamped with the United Nations logo serve in all types of weather and terrain.
Standard kits contain enough colour reagents to carry out more than 500 tests. Convenient pocket-size kits are also available. Both offer a tailored solution to the needs of clients for an easy-to-carry lab which addresses specific national and regional needs. They come with simple instructions in different languages and UNODC also provides training on their use. If tests are positive, the suspect material should be submitted to an authorized laboratory for further confirmation, adds Tettey.
Drug kits are sent every year to Central and South-East Asia, the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa as well as precursor kits for South-West Asia. "Kits have been made available to Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries to help them identify controlled and uncontrolled chemicals being used to extract morphine from opium and to convert morphine into heroin," explains Tettey. So far, results have been encouraging. Thanks to UNODC's field test kits, the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan, for example, has identified uncontrolled chemicals being used for heroin processing.
UNODC forensic science services provide information that can help to answer key questions, for example, on:
- The identification and quality of suspect materials
- The quantity of drug produced
- Clandestine manufacturing methods and the sources of seized drugs and precursors
- Emerging drug trends
For more information, visit the web pages of the Laboratory and Scientific Section.