Guest Editorial Dr. Sabatino Nacson, CTO of Teknoscan
Teknoscan, in collaboration with a local security agency and a Buffalo, New York high school conducted a trial to sniff school lockers for illegal drugs.
The city of Buffalo has a population of 256,300, with 40 elementary schools, 20 secondary schools, and 5 alternative program schools, for a total of 65 schools, and the 2019 published total school enrollment was 32,814 students.
While an unknown number of elementary school students in junior grades may not have lockers, the theoretical maximum could be 32,814 lockers in total, at Buffalo schools.
In the Buffalo school that was the subject of this test project, the lockers were sampled using a hand-held sampler unit and enrichment nanocarbon-coated sample card, which was run through the detector, and identified traces of drugs inside the lockers.
A total of 33 school lockers were sampled over 2 hours, including targeted locker sampling.
Nicotine from E-cigarettes was detected in most of the lockers, and traces of fentanyl, heroin, ketamine and amphetamine were also identified.
Marijuana mixed in E-cigarettes was also detected, confirming the new trend of using e-cigarettes to vaporize cannabis.
In a separate experiment at Teknoscan, weapons and ammunition were hidden in school-type lockers and sniffed as a function of time.
The test has shown that volatile ingredients in fired weapons and ammunition can be easily detected in a span of one or two hours of storage, confirming the validity that chemical detectors can be effective in locating drugs and weapons in school lockers and help school officials improve safety and security in a school environment.
Generally, schools are permitted to use drug dogs to sniff out contraband (illegal drugs, firearms, ammunition), during unannounced, random searches, however, dogs and their screener handlers are not typically available when needed by the school.
Furthermore, there are not enough canine teams to cover the entire Buffalo area (or any medium-to-large city) or respond to every call.
Consequently, schools in that city have been considering alternative solutions to address day-to-day drug interception, and trace chemical detection (TCD) has been shown to be effective in many other applications such as airports, border crossing, and container screening.
It is a well-known fact that over 27% of high school students admit to having used both marijuana and e-cigarettes and have used the devices to vaporize cannabis.
Increasingly more lethal drugs like Fentanyl and its analogs have been used with other street drugs and counterfeit pills sold online as prescription drugs to increase the potency of getting high.
The number of drug overdoses across North America has become staggering, with communities struggling to design responses to the problem.
Fentanyl and its analogs in even trace amounts can induce an overdose and respiratory arrest.
(Anne Milgram, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, is launching a campaign, “One Pill Can Kill,” to warn about illegal synthetic pills sold online as prescription drugs. She spoke exclusively with NBC senior national correspondent Kate Snow for NBC News’ One Nation, Overdosed series. “It’s Russian roulette,” she says. Courtesy of TODAY and YouTube. Posted on Sep 27, 2021.)
It is the unfortunate reality that young people are most susceptible to drug use and drug experimentation, therefore, our schools continue to be a location of drug purchases, transfers, and exposure.
Recent increases in school shootings have added another immediate threat to school safety and security.
What was demonstrated in this study is that deployment of a chemical sniffer at school property can offer immediate response, deterrent effect and potentially improve safety and security in a school environment.
Teknoscan brought along their TSI-3000 Trace Chemical Detector (TCD) unit, a Platinum Award Winner for Best CBRNE Detection in the 2018 ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Awards Program, which is a dual polarity ion mobility spectrometer with high sensitivity and selectivity to drugs and explosives.
The instrument was located in the school’s administrative office and the hand-held sampler with several sample cards and front insertion probe were used to collect the vapor sample from various lockers.
To speed the screening process many lockers can be quickly sampled with one card and if a positive hit is obtained, the sampling is repeated on each individual locker.
The TSI-3000 uses a reusable sample card (seen inserted into the TSI-3000, in Figure 3), which the instrument purges after each test.
In the Buffalo area high school experiment, there were several types of lockers, some of which had 3/8” hole drilled above the lock; this hole was used to sample through, using the battery-operated hand-held sampler and a probe.
Another type of locker had a hole drilled or punched in the lock recess which was used for air sampling.
A third set of lockers had louvers and were sampled using a magnetic flange, shown in Figure 4, that was designed for that application.
What was found?
Of the 33 lockers sampled, one sample of e-cigarette showed a nicotine peak, some Fentanyl and ketamine.
This is illustrated in Figure 5 with the three substances detected and measured signals in digital counts.
The signal is directly proportional to the amount of materials found (e.g.: their nanogram levels).
Another detected e-cigarette showed a strong hit on a marijuana THC peak; this confirms that kids today are using the device to vaporize cannabis.
One locker had four hits: amphetamine, Fentanyl, nicotine and caryophyllene (specific terpenes in marijuana).
A targeted locker showed a strong hit on amphetamine, which was confirmed by the school authority that the student assigned that locker was suspected of bringing drugs to the school.
In a separate experiment carried out at Teknoscan, weapons were hidden in a school locker, as shown in Figure 6, below.
Air sampling of the locker was able to identify the presence of volatiles such as primer explosives and propellants from the firearms in a span of one hour.
Note that the signal significantly increased as storage time was increased.
The one-day trial, at a Buffalo, New York high school, demonstrated that rapid, non-intrusive screening of locker air contents could accurately determine if dangerous drugs and firearms and ammunition were present.
The trace chemical detection unit was as effective as a police detector canine unit.
The equipment is accessible to schools, and is significantly cheaper than the cost of a canine unit and detector dog handler.
Further, batch screening of lockers can provide a quick view of the presence of drugs and weapons on a daily basis; this can thereby act as a deterrent for those who may bring these items into school.
Out of 33 lockers that were sampled in the school:
2/3 had nicotine traces (e-cigarettes, nicotine contamination, etc.)
12% of the lockers had traces of amphetamine (one confirmed)
4% of the lockers had caryophyllene and
3% of the lockers had traces of ketamine and Fentanyl
THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was found in one e-cigarette, showing the innovative approach of vaporizing marijuana within these devices.
Fentanyl detection, by itself, is not a cure to the drug crisis facing the nation; however, every step that can be taken to deter, interdict, or prevent the use of these opioids, is also an opportunity to prevent another overdose-related death.
(Fentanyl has become a true health threat to law enforcement and first responders protecting the communities we live and work in. Produced in collaboration with the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats, this presentation shows a unique insight into the history, legitimate, and illicit uses of fentanyl, as well as giving practical precautions involving potential exposure risks. Courtesy of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a 2021 ‘ASTORS’ Award Finalist*, and YouTube.)
About the Author
Dr. Sabatino Nacson, B.Sc., M.Eng., Ph.D., is a world leader in new product development for the trace detection industry, and serves as the Chief Technology Officer at Teknoscan Systems.
He has more than 25 years’ experience in analytical chemistry and instrument development, including explosives, drugs, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, chemical warfare, and biological agents.
Dr. Nacson’s products have covered a wide range of applications from security, defense, and life sciences to environmental and industrial processes.
Law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, ATF, and RCMP have routinely sought his expertise, along with several other governments.
TeknoScan Systems is a developer and manufacturer of advanced Trace Chemical Detection (TCD) solutions.
The company’s state-of-the-art awarded patented technologies detect and identify banned or hazardous materials through the sampling and analysis of trace vapors and particles in air or on surfaces.
TeknoScan’s advanced sampling and analyzing technologies rapidly and reliably detect and identify organic compounds such as explosives, drugs, and other target substances.
To Learn More, please visit teknoscan.com.
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