First Look: The Handheld Drug Identifier

Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Defender1064 is a versatile and easy-to-use chemical analyzer that was designed to enhance officer safety.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

The Thermo Fisher Scientific 1064Defender uses a 1064-nanometer laser to analyze hazardous chemicals without touching them or removing them from their packaging.The Thermo Fisher Scientific 1064Defender uses a 1064-nanometer laser to analyze hazardous chemicals without touching them or removing them from their packaging.

Before COVID-19 and the 2020 riots one of the greatest worries facing American law enforcement was the danger of accidental exposure to synthetic narcotics like fentanyl. Such hazards have increased the demand for tools officers can use to identify such materials in the field.

One of the leading providers of handheld devices for preliminary identification of narcotics and other hazardous chemicals in the field is Thermo Fisher Scientific. The company specializes in devices that use Raman spectroscopy—laser analysis of  molecular structures—to identify suspect substances. Matt Lufkin of Thermo Fisher Scientific says the great benefit of using Raman spectroscopy vs. other chemical identification technologies is officer safety. “The user can scan a chemical without opening the package,” he explains. “So they are not exposing themselves to the nasty stuff that line officers are now dealing with.”

Lufkin is product manager for Thermo Fisher Scientific’s latest Raman spectroscopy analyzer, the 1064Defender. “The 1064Defender is different because it uses a 1064-nanometer laser for analysis,” he says.

Using a 1064-nm laser for analysis is very beneficial for officers working to identify synthetic drugs, including fentanyl, according to Lufkin. “The 1064Defender suppresses background fluorescence that is common in a bunch of different materials, including fentanyl, MDMA, and meth,” he explains.

Background fluorescence makes it difficult for a Raman analyzer to identify some compounds. “If you’ve ever tried to look at someone standing in front of a big light and all you can see is their outline, that will give you an idea of how fluorescence affects Raman spectroscopy. The fluorescence overwhelms the signal and ultimately prevents us from seeing the things that make a chemical unique. The 1064Defender by the nature of its optical engine tones that light down so the chemical can be identified. With another analyzer you might not have received an ID at all or you might have had to take the chemical out of its package for additional processing.”

Lufkin says Thermo Fisher Scientific has been working on the development of the 1064Defender for several years. The laser system on the device presented some challenges, he says. “Our first Raman devices used 785-nm laser technology, which was adapted from the telecommunications industry. A 1064-nm laser is much more difficult to hone for Raman spectroscopy. That’s not just because the laser is much more powerful; it’s also because it generates more heat. And heat can complicate the identification process,” Lufkin explains.

There’s much more to the 1064Defender than the more powerful laser. The device is a combination of technologies. “We have a completely proprietary system of identification,” Lufkin says. “Everything from the laser to the chemical compound library to the algorithms are all tuned to make sure that we can really hone in on those mixtures that make up these materials and provide officers with detailed information.”

According to Lufkin, the 1064Defender is very easy to use. Officers can become proficient in just a few hours of training. “We give the officers what they need. They need to know the identity of the potentially dangerous chemical in front of them while trying to keep themselves safe and to make justified legal arrests,” he says. The device possesses two different analysis types to best match law enforcement’s mission. Screener displays an alarm, warning, or clear when narcotics, precursors, or cutting agents are detected. ID gives advanced users a complete picture of the chemical they are investigating.

The greatest benefits of the 1064Defender are its speed and specificity, according to Lufkin. “Having that information at hand in the field when it is needed and knowing that it is reliable helps officers make the right decisions.”

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