Multidetector CT scan can detect dissolved drugs

3 June 2008

The smuggling of dissolved drugs, especially cocaine, in bottled liquids can be decreased with the use of multidetector CT (MDCT) according to a recent collaborative study conducted by researchers at the Centre for Forensic Imaging, Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Bern and the Federal Customs Administration (FCA), in Bern, Switzerland.

The study initially consisted of MDCT scans of three wine bottles that contained cocaine solutions that were confiscated at the Swiss Border, said Silke Grabherr, MD, lead author of the study. Once the researchers conducted the scans of the three wine bottles, they did a simulated test using 12 wine bottles, with six spiked with cocaine in various concentrations ranging from 10-120 grams. MDCT accurately detected the bottles with the dissolved cocaine because cocaine shows an increase of the x-ray attenuation, said Dr. Grabherr.

“Fluoroscopy, conventional radiography and sonography have been used to detect hidden drugs. However, these techniques cannot detect dissolved drugs," she said. “MDCT allows us to quickly detect cocaine solutions inside bottles without opening them and even without opening the cargo."

"If a suspicious cargo is scanned with a positive result, it can be tracked without arousing the suspicion of the smuggler. By using the MDCT-screening method, the investigation does not leave any trace, therefore smugglers won’t know if their cargo was examined or not," she said.

"The fast acquisition of the data also allows screening of a large amount of cargo, for example a whole shipment, without delaying delivery of the cargo. By using the MDCT screening, the possibility that the drug (if it exists), is detected is much higher because every bottle in the cargo is examined," said Dr Grabherr.

The study appears in the May issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology.

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