University of Florida Invents Device to Test Counterfeit pills
Researchers at the University of Florida’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering have come up with a way through which drug users will be able to test drugs to detect which are counterfeit pills. The invention comes at a time when many drug sales have turned to the dark web and other online markets to bypass the increased restrictions on illegal substances by governments. Moreover, it is these same restrictions that have created a wave of synthetic drugs that are increasing overdoses world wide. Many drugs are not even properly labeled suggesting that buyers are spending more money on counterfeit products without assurance of the quality.
The device has been made to incorporate Nuclear Quadrupole Resonance (NQR), an analytical technique used to study the structure and chemical bonding in solids. NQR exploits the interactions of nuclear quadrupole moment with the electric field gradient. The NQR frequencies at which molecular transition occurs, is unique for each substance since the electric field gradient of a particular nucleus in a substance is dependent on the electrons used in bonding with neighboring nuclei. The uniqueness of NQR frequencies associated with given substances means NQR can be used to detect the presence of a given substance in a solid sample. NQR is mainly used in the detection of explosives.
According to Professor Swarup Bunia, a lead researcher on the project, the device can be placed in pharmacies and retail stores where drug users can take their previously purchased drugs for testing. All that is needed is the placement of the pill in the device without any modification. After a few moments the device will explain the chemical and molecular compounds present in the pill. The device is capable of analyzing the incorrect components and formulas used in producing counterfeit pills; it can also tell when the wrong quantities of correct components are present in pills.
The device will be a huge boost to drug users who purchase drugs from vendors on dark web marketplaces. Considering the rising number of deaths associated with drugs such as fentanyl and Xanax ordered from the dark web, the NQR device will play a big role in protecting drug users from the consumption of counterfeit pills.
According to DEA Special agent Mike Furgason, the DEA has witnessed a rise in the number of counterfeit drugs in circulation. Most of these drugs according to the agent are laced with fentanyl that is usually ordered from darknet marketplaces.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate that is more potent than heroin but cheaper and easier to access online or through the post. Because of its strength even the smallest amount can lead to a deadly overdose without the consumer ever knowing what happened. Some drug manufacturers add fentanyl to their drugs to increase their potency without the knowledge of their consumers. The consumers end up using the pills oblivious to the presence of Fentanyl because they purchased a pill that seemingly looks like another drug.
In one such case, a Colorado man who ordered fentanyl from a darknet marketplace and then resold it on the street. He was sentenced for supplying the drug that led to the death of one of the buyers. The supplier pleaded guilty to distribution of controlled substance and was sentenced to five years in prison.
In a more recent case, a darknet drug dealer was sentenced to 26 years in prison after pleading guilty to distributing acetyl fentanyl that resulted in a death. His sentence was increased by the suspicion that his fentanyl may have resulted in other drug related deaths. The vendor known as Adam Scott Caward was sentenced after having managed to redistribute drugs he ordered from the dark web since 2015.
Most vendors manufacture their drugs using pill presses. Some of them lack the proper knowledge on the production processes and may include components that are not supposed to be used or use the wrong quantities of components leading to adverse effects and even deaths on consumption. The device will help prevent deaths that result from consumption of counterfeit pills since consumers will be able to know beforehand what the pills contain.
Professor Swarup said the device will be made available to drug users and sellers in two years’ time and will cost them $300. By that time the researchers believe the device will have the ability to work with smartphones making it possible for drug users to test the pills by themselves.