Are your field drug test kits up to the job? – Police News

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Police Tech & Gear
A family of dry reagent kits by SwabTek makes the field testing process less messy and reduces risk

Sponsored by SwabTek
By Tim Dees for Police1 BrandFocus
Presumptive testing of drugs seized in the field is a necessary process to ensure the drugs really are what they appear to be. It can also be messy and marginally unsafe. A new field test product remedies some of the problems and limitations associated with field test kits.
SwabTek uses mostly dry materials to test suspect substances in the field. Instead of pouches of liquid inside other pouches or crushable glass ampules of reagents, SwabTek’s kits consist of a single pre-moistened swab and a card imprinted with a dry reactive compound. There are no liquids to spill that require reporting of a hazardous materials contamination, and officers don’t have to book liquid chemicals into evidence, where they might leak onto other materials.
As with other field test kits, each SwabTek unit is designed to identify one group of drugs. There are kits for testing fentanyl, cannabis, amphetamine, cocaine and heroin. There is also a “general narcotics” test kit for screening samples that are suspected to be or contain drugs of abuse without regard for the specific type of drug present. Samples that test positive with the general kit can then be retested with one of the kits designed for a specific drug.
The test kits are not exclusive to a single drug or compound. For example, the amphetamine test kit will return a positive result in the presence of amphetamine, methamphetamine, MDMA/ecstasy, LSD, synthetic cannabis (“Spice”), synthetic cathinones (bath salts, mephedrone, methyone, naphyrone), ketamine and kratom. Most of the other kits will also show positive for analogs or drug precursors of the targeted substance.
The testing procedure is with the same for all the kits. Each SwabTek test kit is contained in a pouch with two sealed compartments. One compartment contains a swab pre-moistened with reagent. The other compartment holds a test card with one portion carrying a separate dry reagent adhered to the card.
The officer performing the test dips or rubs the swab into the suspected drug to transfer a bit onto the swab, then holds the swab against the reagent-carrying portion of the test card. A panel alongside the reagent area bears the range of colors that result from a positive test. A color match indicates a positive test.
This relatively dry testing method is especially helpful when the drugs are thought to be coated on or soaked into paper. In this case, instead of trying to get some of the printed material onto a swab, the user places the paper over the chemical area of the test card and holds the swab down onto the sample so the liquid from the swab penetrates the paper and infiltrates onto the test card. The test can then be read as with a more typical sample.
Testing for drug-bearing surfaces is even simpler. Simply rub the swab against the object to be tested, then hold it down on the reagent area of the test card.
Following the test, the swab and test card can be reinserted into the carrier pouch or sealed into some other container, such as a zip-lock bag. There is no danger that a liquid will escape from the pouch or bag to contaminate other evidence, the officer’s uniform or the interior of a “war bag” used to carry the officer’s patrol gear.
Freedom from this contamination concern is no small thing. Liquid-based field test kits often use concentrated nitric or sulfuric acid as reagents. The chemicals are contained well enough so long as the test kit remains sealed, but once opened and used, the closures can fail and leak. Officers have been chagrined to find the bottom of their equipment bag or shirt pocket has been permanently stained or dissolved with the runoff from a liquid test kit.
Another advantage of working with mostly dry materials has to do with tolerance to extreme temperatures. Test kits are often stored in patrol cars that are exposed to 100°+ and -0° temperatures, depending on the local climate and the time of year. Test reagents in the liquid-based kits have been known to evaporate or develop frozen crystals. Extreme temperature exposure can make the kit unusable or unreliable because the temperature can affect the reaction to a sample.
Instead, the form factor of SwabTek’s tests make them better suited to storage under extreme conditions. The dry chemical reagents on SwabTek’s test card will not freeze or evaporate, and the test components are hermetically sealed, reducing the likelihood of degradation under temporary storage.
Besides the test kits designed to identify drugs of abuse, SwabTek also produces kits of a similar design for liquid explosives, dry explosives and gunshot residue. The explosives tests are used primarily for aviation and homeland security applications, and the gunshot residue test kits are used by local patrol and forensics units, parks departments, game wardens and state police departments across the country. 
SwabTek has added a new product of special interest to school resource officers to help curb vaping in schools. This bundle pairs SwabTek’s cannabis tests with the FlySense Vape Detector, manufactured by Soter Technologies and sold by SwabTek. The Vape Detector is designed to be mounted in areas where students might gather to vape, out of view of surveillance cameras, and sends email and SMS alerts when evidence of vaping is detected. School officials can then use SwabTek’s tests to follow up on alerts, checking the suspected vaping devices for cannabis.
SwabTek’s narcotics detection products meet the requirements of presumptive tests outlined in the standards established by the Scientific Working Group for the Analysis of Seized Drugs. SWGDRUG was established by the DEA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1997. SwabTek’s tests are also tested to the NIJ standards for color testing in narcotics identification.
SwabTek’s drug testing kits are priced to be competitive with test kits from other vendors. Most of the kits are sold in packs of 100 tests, starting at $250. A ballistic nylon bag containing 60 assorted kits sells for $250. The explosive test kits sell for $300 for a pack of 100 tests, while the gunshot residue kits are priced at $749 for 100 tests.
Visit SwabTek for more information.
Read Next: Spotlight: SwabTek’s tests provide a simple and safe means to presumptively field test for threat compounds, narcotics and explosives by police
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Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia and Oregon. He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 800 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States. He is the author of The Truth About Cops, a collection of answers written for He now writes on police applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He can be reached at
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