1. Safe handling of drugs

1.1 General

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
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?

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:

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

3.1 General

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

3.3 Preparing samples

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

3.6 Hygiene

3.7 First aid

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.

You must refer to the legislation and the guidance of your national administration for more information.
The guidance contained in this section intended to serve as a general reminder of the risks that are sometimes encountered during the examination and sampling procedure and of the safety equipment that you should use and precautions that you should take.

Version Date Changes
1.0 12.10.2012 First version
1.1 15.07.2021 Total text revision