1. Safe handling of drugs
Your administration should have procedures in place for safe handling of drugs (both legal and illegal). This guidance is therefore intended as an overview of the precautions that should be taken and should not override your own risk assessments and safe working practice guides. See also the Chapter Sampling of dangerous, illicit and unknown goods
1.2 How should you handle drugs?
On no account should you sniff or taste substances, including liquids, known or suspected to be drugs. You should try to keep handling of suspected drugs to the minimum to avoid the risk of contamination.
The toxicity of some drugs means that they can present significant risks to those who handle them. Occupational exposure can occur when control measures are inadequate. Exposure may be through
- skin contact,
- skin absorption,
- inhalation of aerosols and drug particles,
- ingestion and needle stick injuries.
Do not allow food or drink in the vicinity of the goods or the sampling location.
Do not eat or drink anything until you have completed your sampling and removed all PPE and washed your hands.
1.3 Is there a safe level of exposure?
NO. The tiniest exposure to a drug can have a huge impact on you physically and/or mentally. You must avoid contact with substances known or suspected to be drugs. Substances can be harmful by ingestion, absorption, inhalation and digestion. Remember: smuggled or illicit drugs may be much purer (more concentrated) than when they are eventually sold on the street.
1.4 What precautions should I take?
You should wear properly fitting personal protective equipment, e.g. nitrile gloves. Disposable coveralls etc. For certain extremely hazardous substances e.g. Fentanyl, respiratory protection should be used. Care must be taken when removing the PPE after use and it must be disposed of correctly.
1.5 What should I do if I have been accidentally exposed to a drug?
- Seek medical attention immediately.
- If available use an antidote such as Nyxoid (a naloxone based preparation) Nyxoid is intended for immediate administration as emergency therapy for known or suspected opioid overdose as manifested by respiratory and/or central nervous system depression in both non-medical and healthcare settings. Nyxoid is indicated in adults and adolescents aged 14 years and over. Nyxoid is not a substitute for emergency medical care.
1.6 Transporting drugs
Moving drugs, particularly large seizures, from one place to another, e.g. to a customs store or a court, poses a hazard. The dangers of interception and assault must be eliminated or reduced as far as possible. No indication should be given that drugs are being moved and the people involved in the transport operation must be extra vigilant.
Packages must be double-wrapped and secured. They should be transported in a secure vehicle (or, if by car, in the boot of the vehicle).
Significant quantities must be transported in an official vehicle or a security van, depending on your national procedures.
1.7 Storing drugs
Seized and detained drugs must be stored in specially secured official stores.
Warning: There is a risk of spontaneous combustion if cannabis is stored in large quantities, particularly if it is damp. Large packages should be broken down into smaller lots — not exceeding 15 kg — to minimise this risk.
1.8 Risk of robbery
There is a risk that criminal organisations might attempt to steal (or recover) seized drugs because of their high value. Suitable risk assessments and safe working practice guides should be drawn up. The primary concern should be the safety of the customs staff.
1.9 Destroying seized drugs
Your national administration will have procedures in place for suitable destruction of seized drugs that are no longer required for evidential purposes. Such procedures should ensure that:
- the goods in question are completely destroyed (some drugs can withstand quite high temperatures);
- the toxic effects are not released into the environment during the destruction process.
2. Precursor Chemicals
Pre-cursor chemicals may occasionally be declared as legitimate cargo and accompanied with the correct SDS and other safety information and labelling. However they are more likely to be mis-declared in which case even if documentation and labels are present they may be misleading or completely incorrect. You will find more information in the Chapter Hazardous Substances
and also the Chapter Sampling of dangerous, illicit and unknown goods
3. Precautions for drug testing using a field testing kit
Some administrations supply officers with specialised kits which allow testing of suspected drugs in the field. The kit usually contains reagents for testing the most commonly found drugs. However, the evidence obtained is only indicative and full laboratory testing is usually required to provide evidence for a court case.
Do not attempt to use a field-testing kit for drugs unless you have received specific training on how to do so. In addition to the risks posed by the suspected drugs, the contents of the kit can be dangerous if handled incorrectly.
3.2 Handling samples
- Avoid handling wherever possible due to the risk of absorption, inhalation or cross-contamination.
- If handling is necessary, wear disposable gloves, coverall and a mask or respiratory protection if the material is dusty.
- Use forceps and/or folded filter paper.
- Take care when removing and disposing of PPE.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly after testing.
3.3 Preparing samples
- Separate fibrous samples with forceps or a dissecting needle.
- Use a micro-spatula to separate tablets and resins or crush between two pieces of filter paper using a blunt instrument.
3.4 Sample size
There is a risk of explosion: unknown substances could have the capacity to explode when reacting with a reagent. Treat all substances with extreme caution. Use very small samples in your tests and wear safety glasses.
3.5 Reagent ampoules
- The reagents in a field test kit are usually corrosive. They are usually supplied in small single-use glass ampoules, so take great care when handling them.
- Wear gloves and use an ampoule-breaker for opening.
- If the contents are spilled, mix them into a paste with the neutraliser before throwing them away. Do not attempt to wash the contents off with water until you have neutralised them, as they might react violently with water.
- Do not smoke, eat or drink in the testing area.
- Wash any re-usable equipment (e.g. forceps) thoroughly after use to prevent cross-contamination.
- Treat any contaminated clothing with the neutralising agent in your testing kit or use bicarbonate of soda — rub it in well, let it dry, then brush it off.
- Dispose of non-reusable items carefully. Remember: re-agents must be neutralised and all gloves, filter papers and other items must be placed in marked waste bags.
- Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after testing.
3.7 First aid
- Most chemical analysis reagents are corrosive. If they splash into your eye, wash the eye immediately and seek urgent medical attention.
- If there is any skin contact, wash the affected area immediately and seek medical attention if necessary. The neutralising reagent might stain the skin slightly but it is harmless.
3.8 Testing by a contractor or other agency
If someone else is testing the substance in your presence, make sure that all the appropriate safety measures are taken.