Handheld Drug Testing in the Field

Officers need to have fast and accurate tools for identifying unknown substances, and these three manufacturers are supplying them.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

Drug testing for use in a prosecution requires that the substance be tested in a lab. But officers also need to know what they are dealing with in the field, both for their own protection and for making an arrest. In recent years, the technology for identifying unknown substances has become more accurate and easier to use thanks to innovations by 908 Devices, DetectaChem, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.


908 Devices

The MX908 is a handheld mass spectrometer from 908 Devices. It can be used to detect and analyze a wide variety of materials, including narcotics, explosives, dangerous chemicals, and chemical warfare agents.

High-pressure mass spectrometry (HPMS) allows the device to analyze material in amounts ranging from grams or more to nanograms and in any phase. Trace analysis capability minimizes officer exposure to enhance officer safety. The MX908 can identify solids, liquids, vapors, and aerosols. The company says HPMS technology makes the MX908 1 million times more sensitive than other detection methods.

In Drug Hunter mode, the MX908 can identify narcotics, including methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, cannabanoids, cathinones such as bath salts, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogs. The MX908 can detect narcotics in substances at concentrations as low as 5%,

Features of the MX908 include fast startup, rapid analysis, audio and visual alerts, and hot swappable batteries.




DetectaChem’s MobileDetect Pouch is a colorimetric portable drug test that is affordable enough for patrol use. It can be used alone or in concert with the MobileDetect app, which is available for Android or iOS smartphones or tablets.

The pouch is a plastic container that comes with test strips or swabs and built-in ampoules. To use, the officer removes one swab and rubs it on a surface such as the outside of a package containing the substance to pick up a trace amount, then inserts the swab back in the pouch. The same must be done with the second swab when using the Multi-Drug Test. Then the officer squeezes the pouch to break the internal seals of the test reagents and waits for the reaction to take place. The resulting colors appear through windows on the front of the pouch.

The app lets you scan a QR code and an algorithm analyzes the color changes to provide information on the material.DetectaChem tests can be used without the app, as officers can eyeball the results and compare them with a color code on each pouch.



Thermo Fisher Scientific

Thermo Fisher Scientific specializes in devices that use Raman spectroscopy—laser analysis of  molecular structures—to identify suspect substances. The company’s latest handheld drug detection device is the 1064Defender, which uses a 1064-nanometer laser. Thermo Fisher says this technological advance makes the 1064 defender more accurate and it yields faster results.

Raman laser spectroscopy gives the 1064Defender the ability to test suspicious material without removing them from packaging and exposing the user to the material. The analyzer’s scanner mode, which features a library of controlled substances that can be amended by users, takes the guesswork out of identifying substances. It delivers results in a clear warning or alert format, ensuring users know the best next steps. Built-in GPS and a digital camera, helps users establish the chain of custody. The 1064Defender Raman Analyzer has Wi-Fi and USB connectivity.

The 1064Defender is very easy to use, according to Thermo Fisher. Officers can become proficient in just a few hours of training.


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