DEA instructions for testing bills for cocaine


Not quite as useful as the MIT student’s instructions for testing marijuana for paraquat contamination using household chemicals, back around 1980…


"The DEA lab ultimately advised scrapping money testing altogether since 30 percent of one sample study of “clean” money turned up a positive. "

Huh. Sounds like the LEO equivalent of the “McDonalds Coffee” urban myth. Every little while I come across breathless comments and much clutching of pearls about cocaine contamination. What is never mentioned (or known?) is that the Fed is responsible for most of the contamination. (see: p.5 “Conclusions” of the first doc)

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i’m not a chemist.
why the addition of acid, then base?

Who cares about testing? Tell me about extraction!


Does this work for both House and Senate bills?


Oh hell, that’s Walter White’s cook!

I’m not either, but my SWAG would be to first dissolve, then precipitate out, the material being tested for.

There are much simpler ways to turn a $100 bill into cocaine, you know.


Presumably we would like a method that leaves the bills intact after extraction.

I was a chemist for a while.

To understand this you need to know that:

  1. chloroform and water do not mix, they’ll separate out into two layers.
  2. cocaine (like other alkaloids) is soluble in acids, not so much in bases. It’s also soluble in chloroform.

So this is what happens:

  1. extract cocaine (and other stuff) into chloroform.
  2. add water & acid; the cocaine (and a little bit less other stuff) will move from the chloroform into the water.
  3. chuck away the chloroform layer, keep the water.
  4. add base, then chloroform; the cocaine (and even less other stuff) will move from the water into the chloroform.
  5. chuck away the water layer, keep the chloroform.

You should now have a chloroform solution of cocaine and possibly other alkaloids from the money- anything that’s not an alkaloid should have been discarded at some point.


And I suppose you’d like to have your cake after eating it as well? :slight_smile:

Actually, that is low. back when I used to be involved with this stuff from the enforcement side. We’d use drug dogs to determine if bills were drug contaminated but it was pro forma as almost any large pile of cash will make a drug dog register.

I’ve witnessed it myself and I’m not generally a clutcher of pearls and spent a huge chunk of my career trying to debunk urban legends common in lawe enforcement.

Hmm. I have no doubt that you’ve seen drug dogs go bananas when they sniff money, and no doubt that you’ve seen the results of well conducted tests performed in a professionally run lab.

But it’s essentially the same problem as testing metal for “radioactive content”, then acting all shocked when every single piece of metal smelted since 1945 comes back with some degree of radioactivity.

Why 1945? Well, that’s when atmospheric nuclear explosions started. Smelting consumes a LOT of air, and since 1945 all air in our atmosphere has contained some radioactive articles. Those particles get concentrated in the metal being smelted, leading to radioactive metal. That piece of radioactive metal you’re holding wasn’t part of a nuclear bomb or nuclear reactor, and wasn’t used by Toby Taleban when he was making his dirty bomb. It just happens to exist on Earth, and is therefore radioactive.

So it goes with money. Sure, most money has traces of cocaine on it. So what? So, nothing. The traces of cocaine cannot (well, I’m sure they can, but they should not) be taken as evidence that this particular note was used in a drug transaction, or even that it was ever handled by a drug dealer. On the other hand, the chances that it has rubbed up against another note - most probably in a bank - that was part of a drug deal, or rubbed up against a note that rubbed against a note that was part of a drug deal or [six degrees of freedom]. The money wasn’t contaminated because it was part of a drug deal. The most likely explanation is that the money was contaminated because it exists in America. Which is exactly the conclusion on p.5 of the linked doc, and why the authors concluded that pearl clutching wasn’t helpful or worthwhile.

Precisely what I meant: The commonality of drug contaminated money is no
longer even vaguely an alert among intelligent law enforcement since the
false positive rate approaches 100%.

W here you see it used is by voraciously ambitious prosecutors and those
cops looking for an excuse to arrest or even better, confiscate, money
since you pretty much have to prove yourself innocent to ever get it back
and doing so can cost you more than the value of the seized money.

Confiscated “drug” cash is a major source of income in some of the more
charming jurisdictions in the South and some other parts of our country and
every agency looks at it with lust and schemes on how to increase it as
they usually get to keep the impounded money when all is said and done,
which rather taints their outlook.

Oh, right. Sorry - I didn’t get that from your earlier post :embarrassed:

No worries.

Much easier method to check a bill for cocaine: Unfold it and see if you’ve got any left in there.

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