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Debunking the “cocaine on 100% of Irish banknotes” story

BBC: Cocaine on ‘100% of Irish euros’:

One hundred percent of banknotes in the Republic of Ireland carry traces of cocaine, a new study has found.

Researchers used the latest forensic techniques that would detect even the tiniest fragments to study a batch of 45 used banknotes.

The scientists at Dublin’s City University said they were “surprised by their findings”.

Also at RTE, Irish Examiner,,, even at Kazakhstan’s KazInform.

This story is (of course) being played widely in the media as “OMG Ireland must use more coke than anywhere else” — in particular, in comparison with a previous study in the US:

The most recent survey carried out in the US showed 65% of dollar notes were contaminated with cocaine.

The DCU press-release has a few more details:

Using a technique involving chromatography/mass spectrometry, a sample of 45 bank notes were analysed to show the level of contamination by cocaine. …

62% of notes were contaminated with levels of cocaine at concentrations greater than 2 nanograms/note, with 5% of the notes showing levels greater than 100 times higher, indicating suspected direct use of the note in either drug dealing or drug inhalation. … The remainder of the notes which showed only ultra-trace quantities of cocaine was most probably the result of contact with other contaminated notes, which could have occurred within bank counting machines or from other contaminated surfaces.

However, looking at an abstract of what I think is the paper in question, Evaluation of monolithic and sub 2 µm particle packed columns for the rapid screening for illicit drugs — application to the determination of drug contamination on Irish euro banknotes, Jonathan Bones, Mirek Macka and Brett Paull, Analyst, 2007, DOI: 10.1039/b615669j, that says:

A study comparing recently available 100 × 3 mm id, 200 × 3 mm id monolithic reversed-phase columns with a 50 × 2.1 mm id, 1.8 µm particle packed reversed-phase columns was carried out to determine the most efficient approach … for the rapid screening of samples for 16 illicit drugs and associated metabolites. … Method performance data showed that the new LC-MS/MS method was significantly more sensitive than previous GC-MS/MS based methods for this application.

My emphasis. I’d guess that that means that comparing this result to banknote-analysis experiments carried out elsewhere using different methods is probably invalid — perhaps this method is more efficient at picking up ‘contact with other contaminated notes, which could have occurred within bank counting machines or from other contaminated surfaces’, as noted in the DCU release?