Police test of instant drug test recovers hundreds of IDs

An instant drug testing service developed in New Zealand is proving popular with police who have tested its use to identify drugs in the field.

A police officer demonstrates how Lumi can be used to identify drugs almost instantly with a field scan.
Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

The Lumi service uses a mobile phone app to analyze drugs to look for identifying characteristics of three common drugs – methamphetamine, MDMA and cocaine.

The substance is placed on the screen and is compared to identifying characteristics of known drugs found in New Zealand, and an analysis is provided to the officer.

It was developed by government ESR researchers working with police.

In the past six months, 25 devices equipped with Lumi have been spotted in the Tāmaki Makaurau, Central and Canterbury police districts. A total of 884 substances were scanned during 481 events.

He identified illegal drugs 368 times; meth 290 times, MDMA 64 times, cocaine 13 times, and a mixture of MDMA and methamphetamine once.

The scans failed to identify the scanned substances in 516 cases.

Deputy Police Commissioner Bruce O’Brien said trial participants liked being able to scan plastic. This meant they didn’t have to open a bag to take a sample and didn’t expose themselves to what they were scanning.

The Lumi drug scanner.

Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Most officers who used the service said it helped them make informed decisions faster, without needing to bring someone back to the job, he said.

The data collected from the Lumi scans could also be used by ESR, police and health authorities to obtain up-to-date data on drug use in New Zealand.

ESR’s forensic research and development project leader Dion Sheppard said data from the reports showed the service performed robustly and reliably in the trial.

“It’s fair to say that the police work in some of New Zealand’s most diverse and challenging environments. Where the police go, Lumi has to be able to go, and the service is a real success in terms of reliability. “

The results Lumi provides cannot be used as evidence in court, but officers could use them to decide whether to order further lab tests.

Potential use in a changing drug policing environment

O’Brien said the enforcement service could help officers refer those who use illegal drugs to services that can help them.

In 2019, the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act was passed, giving police greater authority to direct people caught with Class A drugs down a health-oriented path, rather than prosecute.

But despite the change, New Zealand’s drug laws and police have come under heavy criticism, with calls for more use of the fitness trail.

macro shot of crystal meth

Methamphetamine crystals.
Photo: Common Wikipedia

O’Brien believed that the Lumi service could play a role.

“Drug identification helps officers consider how best to resolve the incident and ensure that the person in possession of the drug is considered for a health-based resolution.”

Police said a frontline officer who used the app reported that it helped have better discussions with those who had drugs on them.

“When you show them the evidence then on Lumi by saying, ‘This is what it comes down with, it’s clear to both of us what the substance is, and I want to help you with your drug habit by giving you a ‘referral – it’s easier to interact with them about it.’

Police are currently assessing the benefits of the service.

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