Trace drug analysis


As world leaders in the analysis of drugs on banknotes, and the only laboratory to be UKAS accredited to perform this work in the UK; MSA experts have over 60 years of combined experience in providing banknote analysis services for authorities in the UK and overseas.

For over 15 years, the company has been providing a forensic analysis service for UK, US, Caribbean, and Euro banknotes for law enforcement, both in the UK and overseas. In the thousands of cases MSA has been involved with, the evidence has assisted the authorities in the seizing of many millions of pounds as well as resulting in the conviction of defendants.

Over that time, MSA has built up databases of the range of drugs typically detected on banknotes taken from a variety of sources. It is believed to be the largest database of drugs on banknotes in the world. The sources of banknotes tested include banks, bureaux de change, post offices, shops, public houses, casinos and music festivals. Tens of thousands of banknotes from these sources have been analysed and the database continues to grow on a weekly basis.

By knowing what drugs are found on ‘normal’ banknotes from general circulation, MSA experts can easily establish when a quantity of banknotes in case work has ‘abnormal’ amounts of drugs present.

For example, our databases demonstrate that UK and Euro banknotes are expected to have cocaine on them. This is due in part to the stability of cocaine, and the perpetuation of cocaine traces on bank counting machines etc. Using this knowledge, MSA experts can however, easily identify the difference between the amount of cocaine on ‘normal’ banknotes in our database and the amount of cocaine on banknotes seized from cocaine users, dealers, money launderers, or traffickers of cocaine.

The evidence MSA’s experts provide, goes beyond a simple comparison; finding drugs on banknotes above expected amounts can support a case involving drugs, especially when bulk drugs have not been found.

The list of drugs MSA experts can target grows all the time, frequently requested drugs and related materials include;

  • Cocaine
  • Diamorphine
  • MDMA
  • THC
  • Amphetamine
  • Ketamine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Benzocaine
  • Procaine
  • Lidocaine
  • BZP
  • Caffeine
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Methadone

This innovative forensic approach enables the quick (>300 banknotes in 20 mins) simultaneous detection of a range of drugs on banknotes, without any requirements for sample preparation, or damage to the banknotes.

The MSA laboratory is accredited through UKAS to analyse banknotes for the presence of a wide range of illicit drugs and diluents. In 2002 and 2004 the evidence was deemed fit for purpose in two major Court of Appeal cases; R-v-Compton and Compton (Neutral Citation Number: [2002] EWCA CRIM 2835. Case No: 2001/667,668,880) and R-v-Benn and Benn (Neutral Citation Number: [2004] EWCA CRIM 2100. Case No: 2002/4612/B4 & 2002/5482/B4).

MSA’s banknote evidence was also reviewed by the Forensic Regulator in 2009, who concluded favourably on the use of the forensic evidence in the UK court system.

Any questions? Please see our FAQs page to see a list of the most popular questions asked.

Not sure what to do next? Please contact us here, or give us a call directly on 0117 317 3600.

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