Skip to main content

First liquid chromatography–high resolution mass spectrometry method for the determination of cocaine on banknote dust



Prevalence measures of sociological interest concerning cocaine presence on banknotes are fraught with (i) the extreme variability of its concentration (seven orders of magnitude); (ii) the high number of banknotes needed for the statistical significance. Banknote dust from counting machines from a large and representative number of banknotes in circulation in a specific area represents the most eligible sample to ascertain cocaine circulation. No chromatographic method is available in this respect. This study aims at developing the first analytical methodology for the determination of cocaine in banknote dust samples.


This novel and straightforward approach consists of a simple methanol extraction followed by analytical determinations via ultra-high performance liquid chromatography coupled to Orbitrap high-resolution mass spectrometry.


Satisfactory analytical performance was obtained with a coefficient of determination of 0.996; maximum within-run and between-run precisions were, respectively, 1.85% and 5.20%. Limits of detection and quantification were, respectively, 3 and 9 ng/mL with an overall process efficiency of 93.2%. The method developed was successfully applied to 9 banknote dust samples from local banknote counter machines. The found concentrations ranged from 2.18E + 02 to 2.31E + 03 μg of cocaine per gram of banknote dust and varied only one order of magnitude, much less than cocaine concentration on banknotes.


To have an idea of cocaine circulation in a geographical area, the sampling of banknote dust, compared to banknotes, consists of tremendous advantages in terms of statistical significance, higher cocaine concentrations, and lower variability: this is crucial from the sociological point of view.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. Pinorini MT, Bernasconi P, Heeb T et al (2020) Detection of cocaine on euro banknotes; development of a practical approach for the interpretation of suspect cases. Forensic Sci Int 309:110227.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Bones J, Macka M, Paull B (2007) 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. Analyst 132:208–217.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Oyler J, Darwin WD, Cone EJ (1996) Cocaine contamination of United States paper currency. J Anal Toxicol 20:213–216.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Carter JF, Sleeman R, Parry J (2003) The distribution of controlled drugs on banknotes via counting machines. Forensic Sci Int 132:106–112.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Ebejer KA, Lloyd GR, Brereton RG et al (2007) Factors influencing the contamination of UK banknotes with drugs of abuse. Forensic Sci Int 171:165–170.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Troiano G, Mercurio I, Golfera M et al (2017) Cocaine contamination of banknotes: a review. Eur J Public Health 27:1097–1101.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Armenta S, de la Guardia M (2008) Analytical methods to determine cocaine contamination of banknotes from around the world. TrAC Trends Anal Chem 27:344–351.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Jourdan TH, Veitenheimer AM, Murray CK, Wagner JR (2013) The quantitation of cocaine on U.S. currency: survey and significance of the levels of contamination. J Forensic Sci 58:616–624.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Wimmer K, Schneider S (2011) Screening for illicit drugs on Euro banknotes by LC-MS/MS. Forensic Sci Int 206:172–177.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Brüggemann M, Karu E, Hoffmann T (2016) Critical assessment of ionization patterns and applications of ambient desorption/ionization mass spectrometry using FAPA-MS. J Mass Spectrom 51:141–149.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Dixon SJ, Brereton RG, Carter JF, Sleeman R (2006) Determination of cocaine contamination on banknotes using tandem mass spectrometry and pattern recognition. Anal Chim Acta 559:54–63.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Jenkins AJ (2001) Drug contamination of US paper currency. Forensic Sci Int 121:189–193.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Luzardo OP, Almeida M, Zumbado M, Boada LD (2011) Occurrence of contamination by controlled substances in Euro banknotes from the Spanish Archipelago of the Canary Islands. J Forensic Sci 56:1588–1593.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Di Donato E, Martin CCS, De Martinis BS (2007) Determination of cocaine in Brazilian paper currency by capillary gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Quim Nova 30:1966–1967.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Almeida VGK, Cassella RJ, Pacheco WF (2015) Determination of cocaine in real banknotes circulating at the State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Forensic Sci Int 251:50–55.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Rodrigues NM, Guedes M, Augusti R, Marinho PA (2013) Cocaine contamination in Belo Horizonte-MG paper currency. Rev Virtual Quim 5:125–136.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Esteve-Turrillas FA, Armenta S, Moros J et al (2005) Validated, non-destructive and environmentally friendly determination of cocaine in euro bank notes. J Chromatogr A 1065:321–325.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Macku̘ak T, Staňová AV, Gál M, et al (2016) Determination of illicit drugs and their metabolites contamination on banknotes. Monatsh Chem 147:39–43.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Aitken CGG, Wilson A, Sleeman R et al (2017) Distribution of cocaine on banknotes in general circulation in England and Wales. Forensic Sci Int 270:261–266.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Sleeman R, Burton IFA, Carter JF, Roberts DJ (1999) Rapid screening of banknotes for the presence of controlled substances by thermal desorption atmospheric pressure chemical ionisation tandem mass spectrometry. Analyst 124:103–108.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Matuszewski BK, Constanzer ML, Chavez-Eng CM (2003) Strategies for the assessment of matrix effect in quantitative bioanalytical methods based on HPLC-MS/MS. Anal Chem 75:3019–3030.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Report, (2013) Scientific working group for forensic toxicology (SWGTOX) standard practices for method validation in forensic toxicology. J Anal Toxicol 37:452–474.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Fedorova G, Randak T, Lindberg RH, Grabic R (2013) Comparison of the quantitative performance of a Q-Exactive high-resolution mass spectrometer with that of a triple quadrupole tandem mass spectrometer for the analysis of illicit drugs in wastewater. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 27:1751–1762.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Rajski Ł, Martínez-Bueno MJ, Ferrer C, Fernández-Alba AR (2019) LC-ESI-QOrbitrapTM MS/MS within pesticide residue analysis in fruits and vegetables. TrAC Trends Anal Chem 118:587–596.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Thomas A, Geyer H, Schänzer W et al (2012) Sensitive determination of prohibited drugs in dried blood spots (DBS) for doping controls by means of a benchtop quadrupole/Orbitrap mass spectrometer. Anal Bioanal Chem 403:1279–1289.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. George R, Haywood A, Khan S et al (2018) Enhancement and suppression of ionization in drug analysis using HPLC-MS/MS in support of therapeutic drug monitoring: a review of current knowledge of its minimization and assessment. Ther Drug Monit 40:1–8.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Kaufmann A, Butcher P, Maden K et al (2011) Quantification of anthelmintic drug residues in milk and muscle tissues by liquid chromatography coupled to Orbitrap and liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry. Talanta 85:991–1000.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Smith RM, Casale JF (2010) The mass spectrum of cocaine: deuterium labeling and MS/MS studies. Microgram J 7:16–41

    Google Scholar 

  29. Poupko JM, Hearn WL, Rossano F (2018) Drug contamination of U.S. paper currency and forensic relevance of canine alert to paper currency: a critical review of the scientific literature. J Forensic Sci 63:1340–1345.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. Parker PD, Beers B, Vergne MJ (2017) What is in your wallet? Quantitation of drugs of abuse on paper currency with a rapid LC-MS/MS Method. J Chem Educ 94:1522–1526.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Poole C, Mester Z, Miró M et al (2016) Extraction for analytical scale sample preparation (IUPAC Technical Report). Pure Appl Chem 88:649–687.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


Support from Dr.ssa Stefania Scatasta is gratefully acknowledged.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



TC: project administration and supervision, conceptualization of the experimental idea at the basis of the study, panning of the experiments, methodology, validation, writing. ES: conceptualization, methodology, experiments supervision, writing. All the authors approved the manuscript preparation and submission.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Teresa Cecchi.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors have no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any the authors.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Cecchi, T., Santoni, E. First liquid chromatography–high resolution mass spectrometry method for the determination of cocaine on banknote dust. Forensic Toxicol 40, 357–365 (2022).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Illicit drugs
  • Ultra-high performance liquid chromatography coupled to high-resolution mass spectrometry
  • Bills
  • Validation
  • Inclusion list
  • Higher-energy collisional dissociation