You are here

Field Drug Identification Kit


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Chemical/Biological Defense

OBJECTIVE: Development of an easy to use, field-rugged drug identification kit.

DESCRIPTION: Illicit drug trafficking is a key source of financing for terrorist organizations, and as a result, the U.S. Army plays an active role in countering illicit drug trafficking. Soldiers and military police are often tasked with identifying illicit drugs in difficult and demanding field environments. Sophisticated electronic devices for detecting drugs do exist, however, these devices are typically expensive, bulky/heavy, non-ruggedized, and require a high level of training. Microarray chips for label-free detection have been investigated to improve selectivity and potentially reduce the overall size, weight, and power of the detection platform but may not be robust enough for relevant operating environments [1]. Colorimetric chemistry has been demonstrated to be an easy, cost effective approach for drug detection and identification [2], but current colorimetric field detection kits are typically limited to detecting only a single class of drugs. Advances in chemometric pattern recognition [3] have resulted in the development of sensitive and selective sensor arrays for the identification of complex mixtures of both volatile organic compounds and aqueous solutions of organic compounds [4,5]. Development of a novel detection platform that exhibits enhanced sensitivity and specificity over current test kits and avoids the need for bulky and complex instruments is desired.

The U.S Army specifically has an unmet need for a drug identification kit that is capable of detecting all major illicit drug classes in a single test as existing field tests have a number of drawbacks (multiple levels of testing required; hazardous materials contained in test matrices; subjective interpretation of data output). As there are currently no reliable fielded technologies to detect the synthetic cannabinoids, the ability to distinguish this class of drugs is of particular interest and will be a distinguishing feature for submission.

The proposed solution should be: easy to use; low cost (no more than $15 per test); lightweight; no or low power (i.e. consumer batteries); physically rugged; operable in a wide range of field conditions; exhibit a shelf life of at least 1-2 years; and require minimal user training. The proposed solution must exceed performance (sensitivity, specificity) of currently available test methods, reducing operator/analysis steps, and reduce false positives from common household and industrial materials. The proposed form factor must support ease of use, portability, meet military specifications, and ensure environmentally safe disposal of any testing materials. Ideally, the solution would interface with existing deployed communication devices (i.e. tablet, mobile device) to power solutions and report output.

PHASE I: Develop, test and/or demonstrate a detection platform capable of detecting synthetic cannabinoids (e.g. JWH-018, XLR11, AB-PINACA) and opiates (e.g. heroin, codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone). Test results are required in less than 5 min. Conduct preliminary stability testing on the detection mechanisms/chemistries to indicate potential suitability for field use. Develop a prototype concept capable of achieving all of the performance requirements listed in the description above.

PHASE II: Incorporate detection mechanisms/chemistries from Phase I into the prototype design from Phase I. The prototype must be capable of detecting all listed classes of drugs from Phase I plus phenethylamines (e.g. amphetamines, methamphetamine, MDA, MDMA, ephedrine), cathinones (e.g. Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) cathinone, butylone, methylone), and hallucinogens (e.g. LSD, mescaline, psilocin, psilocybin, bufotenine) in a single test in less than 5 min. Demonstrate use under a range of operating and storage temperatures (2-50 degrees Celsius) and humidities (10-95% RH). Demonstrate a kit shelf life of a minimum of 1 year at room temperature. Demonstrate prototype in a realistic environment.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: This technology has a broad range of potential civilian and military applications. The detection platform for various classes of drugs can be extended to intelligence operations, law enforcement, and first responders.


    • Klenkar, G.; Liedberg, B. A microarray chip for label-free detection of narcotics. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 391 (2008), 1679-1688


    • O’Neal, C.; Crouch, D.; Fatah, A. Validation of twelve chemical spot tests for the detection of drugs of abuse. Forensic Science International 109 (2000) 189-201


    • Collins, B.; Wright, A.; Anslyn, E. Combining molecular recognition, optical detection, and chemometric analysis. Topics in Current Chemistry 277 (2007) 181-218


    • Lim, S.; Feng, L.; Kemling, J.; Musto, C.; Suslick, K. An optoelectronic nose for the detection of toxic gases. Nature Chemistry 1 (2009) 562-567


  • Zhang, C.; Suslick, K. A colorimetric sensor array for organics in water. J. Am Chem. Soc. 127 (2005) 11548-11549

KEYWORDS: Narcotics, Illicit Drugs, Sensitive Site Exploitation, Field Kit

  • TPOC-1: Dr. Dawanne Poree
  • Phone: 919-549-4238
  • Email:
  • TPOC-2: Richard Tontarski
  • Phone: 404-469-4609
  • Email:
US Flag An Official Website of the United States Government