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Science Technology

Hair-Raising Technique Detects Drugs, Explosives On Human Body 162

sciencehabit writes Scientists have found a way to combine Van de Graaff generators with a common laboratory instrument to detect drugs, explosives, and other illicit materials on the human body. In the laboratory, scientists had a volunteer touch a Van de Graaff generator for 2 seconds to charge his body to 400,000 volts. This ionized compounds on the surface of his body. The person then pointed their charged finger toward the inlet of a mass spectrometer, and ions from their body entered the machine. In various tests, the machine correctly identified explosives, flammable solvents, cocaine, and acetaminophen on the skin.
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Hair-Raising Technique Detects Drugs, Explosives On Human Body

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  • Re:Wait a minute... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Friday July 11, 2014 @06:46AM (#47430037) Homepage
    Acetaminophen aka Tylenol can actually be quite harmful. The difference between the maximum safe dose, and the amount to cause liver problems (or failure) is quite a small margin. Combine that with the fact that they put it in other medications such as cold medications that people take along with regular acetaminophen, and you end up with a recipe for disaster. This American Life [] did an episode on it.
  • by mark_reh ( 2015546 ) on Friday July 11, 2014 @07:24AM (#47430115) Journal

    I suggest that everyone who has to go through the scanner reach down into their pants and stick their finger into their butt hole just before they have to point their finger at the detector.

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Friday July 11, 2014 @07:33AM (#47430151)

    The funny thing is, try to explain this to your doctor when she wants to prescribe an opiate like oxycodone.

    In about half the cases I've been prescribed opiates the doctor refused to prescribe oxycodone on its own -- I was told it was Percocet (oxycodone + acetaminophen) or nothing, they would not write a prescription for just oxycodone. I had one surgeon do it reluctantly, pointedly asking me why and not really liking my answer that I felt it was dangerous and could add in acetaminophen on my own if I felt it was helpful.

    I did have one specialist who wrote that way and when I asked her why she prescribed that way she said current research showed the liver risk outweighed the small benefits. Ironically she was the "less educated" physicians assistant and not a full MD.

    I think most doctors believe its beneficial but I also think they somehow see acetaminophen opiate formulations as some kind of bulwark against abuse. Either because they believe it is so much more effective paired with acetaminophen and you'll be inclined to take less overall or that people "know" acetaminophen is bad in quantity and it will serve as a deterrent to excessive dosage, especially people with a history of drug abuse.

    I also think they are highly skeptical of someone asking for a specific opiate formulation, even when they initiate the prescription (ie, you have an obvious injury and they prescribe an opiate). It's highly ironic that they're so worried about addiction they're willing to risk serious liver toxicity.

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Friday July 11, 2014 @09:51AM (#47430779)

    The FDA has been mulling a total ban on acetaminophen combinations only recently, I presume this is because the most recent research probably indicated that the benefits were outweighed by the risks.

    The physicians assistant who prescribed only oxycodone without acetaminophen to me was the youngest of the prescribers I've dealt with, so I'm also assuming her more recent education included this newer thinking.

    The oxycodone dosage she gave me was the same as the combination offered elsewhere -- 5 mg. I found that the APAP-free version seemed more effective -- faster onset of benefit with no obvious reduction in duration or overall benefit.

    The PA also prescribed other medication to try to enhance the oxycodone, hydroxazine and amytriptaline. Unfortunately both of these had significant side effects. Hydroxazine made me really sleepy and amytriptaline made it very hard to get up.

God help those who do not help themselves. -- Wilson Mizner