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RATIONALE STATEMENT: This project shows fundamental understanding of forensic science and mastery of research methods. It took what my pre-existing knowledge on drugs, and detection thereof, amassed from the Correctional Academy and in-service training. This paper broadened my understanding of all that goes into a forensic investigation.

Forensic Science

            A drug is defined in the textbook Chapter 8 in the 10th edition of Richard Saferstein’s Criminalistics: An introduction to Forensic Science as being a natural or synthetic substance used to produce physiological or psychological effects in humans or other higher order animals.  There are several classifications or types of drugs commonly classified by the active ingredient or by the way it is used to treat a specific malady or condition.  Some are prescribed by a Doctor; those classified as illicit have no medicinal use and are often abused.  The book builds a strong basis of knowledge on the abuse and dependency of illicit drugs. As well as, the detection and identification of them, and categorizes them as narcotics, hallucinogens, depressants, stimulants, club drugs and anabolic steroids. 
More specifically, narcotics include opiate derivatives that depress the central nervous system and relieve pain.  These drugs include Heroin, Codeine, Opium and Morphine.  The base of this drug is usually extracted from an un ripened pod of the poppy plant which is grown mostly in Asia.

Drugs classified as hallucinogens include Marijuana, LSD, PCP and methamphetamines.   Marijuana was incorrectly classified as a narcotic according to laws in the United States, but was reclassified as a hallucinogen in the 1970’s.

Depressants include substances that slow down the central nervous system.  These drugs include alcohol (the most widely abused drug in the world), barbiturates, anti-anxiety drugs and other substances that can be huffed or sniffed such as modeling cement and aerosol gas propellants.
Conversely, Stimulants are drugs that stimulate or speed up the central nervous system, including amphetamines, cocaine and crack.  Cocaine use in America is continuously increasing, and produces the strongest psychological compulsion for continued use.

Club drugs have grown in popularity over the last decade and include pills that can be easily concealed in containers that do not resemble drug paraphernalia such as lollipops or Pez dispensers. This category also contains drugs such as GHB and Rohyphenal that greatly reduce the central nervous system. These have been used in crimes such as date rape and sexual assault.

The final category of drugs is anabolic steroids or synthetic compounds that are chemically related to the male sex hormone testosterone which promotes the androgenic (masculine characteristics) and accelerates muscle growth and development.  Anabolic steroids have constantly been in the public spotlight due to amateur and professional athletes using them to get ahead of the competition and stay on top of their game longer. However, they also are used in developing muscle growth in under sized children and HIV patients who have lost most of the muscle on their body due to the virus.

Society paints a dark, morbid picture of drug addicts; often times portraying them as shiftless individuals who can only focus on one thing and have lost all hope and ambition.  In reality, people psychologically addicted to drugs present themselves in a normal way, remaining socially and economically involved in their surrounding community.  Sellman, D. (2010) actually attributed addiction is fundamentally about compulsive behavior, and that such habits originate outside of consciousness.

D. Sellman even went as far as crediting 50% of addiction as being inherited from family and genetic makeup in his piece The 10 most important things known about addiction, Addictions 2010. People with addictive personalities often have other underlying psychiatric problems or disorders further obscuring the addiction.  He characterized addiction by frequent relapse and individuals inability to overcome their addiction on the first attempt.    Sellman goes on to explain that the “Come back when you are motivated” tactic is a highly inappropriate approach to addiction. Individuals have very specific problems so it is important to find ways to engage the addicted on a case by case basis.  He concluded by explaining that change takes time, and Doctor’s treating addiction should combine rejuvenating approaches, including prescription drugs, family therapy, social and legal support. They should also provide accommodations if necessary, and that epiphanies are rare, even though they are the popular story to be told.

Sudden discontinuation of a drug which the user has created a tolerance of will cause withdrawal symptoms, this is considered physical dependence. Dependencies can range from the responsible use of prescription medications to recreational drugs such as alcohol as well as illicit drugs.  Several factors can be variables in forecasting the physical dependence of drugs and the resulting severity of the withdrawal symptoms and the duration of those symptoms. Some factors include higher dosages, greater duration and earlier age of when use began.  A prime example of this occurrence is the addiction to the most readily available drug in the world today, alcohol.

Mickey Mantle, a baseball legend and social icon, ultimately died from his bout with alcoholism.  He began the use of alcohol at a young age, and built up his tolerance to the drug and abused it on a regular, almost nightly basis.  Over his 18 year career and decades of alcohol abuse, Mantle became so dependent on the substance that if he were to go only a few hours without a drink he began to experience withdrawal symptoms.  The physical and psychological dependency was so strong that he would succumb to the need and relapse almost as soon withdrawals were felt.  After years of battling liver cancer, cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis C, caused by his addiction to alcohol, Mickey Mantle died in1995. In most cases, it is a never ending cycle until the day they decide to get help or die, in Mantle’s case the decision to get help was too late.

According to the Drug Abuse Handbook, Second Edition by Steven B. Karch MD, a controlled substance is a drug or substance of which the use, sale or distribution is regulated by the federal government or the state government entity.  This book explains the process by which the determination is made on whether or not to schedule a substance as controlled. There are eight factors that are taken into consideration.

The first factor in deeming a substance controlled is whether it has actual or relative potential for abuse. Secondly, is the substance already in heavy circulation as a drug or does it merely have the potential for being mainstream. The next factor taken into account in determining whether to schedule a substance is the existence of scientific evidence of pharmacological effects on a living organism, and the state of the current scientific knowledge on the drug. Additionally, have there been documented cases where the substance has been a source of abuse. Previous records of misuse increases the chances that the substance will be or already has been scheduled.

The history of the current pattern of abuse, the scope, duration and significance of abuse are factors that must be taken into account for all decisions relating to scheduling.  Risk to public health, psychic or physiological dependence liability and whether it is an immediate precursor that participates in a chemical reaction that produces another controlled substance are the final factors that must be considered before the final determination of the substance’s schedule as controlled and inclusion in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) was ratified into law by Congress as part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.  The CSA, as defined on the House of Representatives website,, is the federal U.S. drug policy under which the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of certain substances is regulated. The Act also served as the national implementing legislation for the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, legislation in1961 which was the international treaty to prohibit production and supply of specific drugs, most often narcotics, and drugs with similar effects.  This document schedules drugs in categories, labeled I, II, III, IV, and V, from highest potential for abuse to lowest respectively, the level of medicinal use and the ability for doctors to write prescriptions, based on pre-existing knowledge and documentation.

Schedule I consists of mostly controlled substances that have the highest potential for abuse, no medicinal use and a doctor cannot write a prescription for, including but not limited to marijuana,  heroin, peyote, LSD and GHB. Peyote, being one of the few plants specifically scheduled, with a narrow exception to its legal status for religious use by members of the Native American Church, is high in natural mescaline content, which is also listed as a Schedule I drug.  Marijuana is the hot topic of schedule I drugs as it is one of the very few drugs in this schedule to never have any reports of overdose. In some states individuals can have prescriptions written for it and it does have medicinal uses therefore making it the subject of much controversy and attempts to be removed from its current scheduling.

Schedule II consists of drugs that also have a high potential for abuse, currently have accepted medical use in, or currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.  These include, but again are not limited to, cocaine, opium, methadone, morphine and codeine.  There may be medical use for schedule II drugs, but none of which may be dispensed without the express written consent/prescription of a practitioner as prescribed by the Secretary by regulation after consulting with the Attorney General, and may never be refilled .

Schedule III drugs are substances that have a potential for abuse less than the drugs or other substances in schedules I and II, have a currently accepted medical use in treatment and abuse of the drug or other substance may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.  These drugs include but are not limited to anabolic steroids, ketamine and immediate acting barbiturates.
Schedule IV drugs are substances that have a low potential for abuse relative to the drugs found in schedule III, currently have accepted medical use in treatment, and abuse of the drug may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence.  These include, but are not limited to Xanax, Ambien, Valium and antidiarrheal drugs.  Control and regulation of the drugs in this schedule are similar to Schedule III, however, unlike prescriptions of the previous schedules may be refilled up to five times within a six month period.

Schedule V drugs are substances that have a low potential for abuse, also have a currently accepted medical use in treatment and abuse of the drug may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence.  These drugs include but are not limited to cough suppressants, mixtures containing small amounts of opium and other antidiarrheal drugs.  No controlled substance in schedule V may be distributed or dispensed other than for a medical purpose.  Having scheduled most know controlled substances, the next step is to identify the use and abuse of these substances using screening, tests, but it all begins with analytical process.

.First, the detection of an unknown substance in a person’s system must begin with a screening process to rule out most of the other substances it could be. Color tests usually are implemented to whittle the possibilities down to a select few.  During color tests, chemical reagents are added to a sample to make it turn a definite color to prove the presence of a drug.  By adding Marquis to a sample it will turn purple in the presence of heroin or morphine.  Dillie-Koppanyi will turn a fresh sample violet-blue in the presence of barbiturates.  The Duquenois-Levine reagent will turn a sample purple  in color if marijuana is present, Von Urk will turn it blue-purple in the presence of LSD,  eventually the Scott test will turn a sample blue if cocaine is present after adding a few chemicals.

Another way to conclude that a person is using or has recently used one of the illicit types of drugs in the microcrystalline test.  In this test, a reagent is added to a sample of a drug on a microscope slide, producing a chemical reaction that creates a crystalline precipitate. The crystal size and shape of the product is highly indicative  of the drug that was used.

Other tests used to detect the presence of drugs in a sample are chromatography and spectrometry. Thin layer and gas chromatography are used to separate the drugs from their diluents while making them easier to identify.  Spectrometry is not as conclusive for the detection of drugs as chromatography, but when gas spectrometry and mass spectrometer are used in combination a more exact “fingerprint “of the drug present is revealed.

From the feeling of psychological need to physical dependence, the abuse of drugs has shaped and devastated the lives of many, and has effected everyone in some way if not indirectly.  With the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 came the advent of classifying controlled substances, and scheduling them from most potential of abuse to least.  Once a controlled substance is scheduled as being illegal there are numerous ways to test for the use of that illicit drug, from color tests by adding chemicals to gas chromatography tests to separate and identify the substance.  The last few decades have shaped the dependency on, identification and regulation of controlled substances into a science, forensic science.



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