Cocaine Is Turning Up On More Bank Notes

Scientists Told That Up 90% Of Paper Money In Baltimore, Other Big Cities, May Contain Trace Amounts Of The Drug

August 18, 2009|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Everybody knows that once a bank note has passed through a few hands, it's not the cleanest thing in the world.

What you might not know is that, in addition to germs, grime and other visitors, the bills in your wallet probably contain cocaine.

Although such traces have been reported in the past, a scientists' group said Monday that cocaine is present in up to 90 percent of the paper money in the United States, particularly in large cities such as Baltimore, Boston and Detroit.

The 90 percent figure represents a significant jump from a similar study conducted two years ago. In the earlier survey, 67 percent of U.S. paper money was found to contain traces of cocaine.

Scientists attending an American Chemical Society meeting in Washington were told that bank notes from more than 30 cities in five countries - the United States, Canada, Brazil, China and Japan - were tested and showed "alarming" evidence of cocaine, although the amounts found on individual bills were usually tiny, and certainly not enough for a high.

Professor Yuegang Zuo of the University of Massachusetts, who led both studies, said the U.S. had the highest levels of cocaine among the countries surveyed. China and Japan had the lowest.

Zuo pointed out that the amount of cocaine found on most notes was so small that consumers should not worry about their health or legal jeopardy when handling paper money.

In an e-mail message Monday, Zuo said that of the 10 bank notes examined in Baltimore, nine contained cocaine, findings that matched a survey taken in the city in 1996.

Across the United States, a total of 234 bank notes were tested for the latest survey, for which denominations were not specified.

Washington ranked above the average, with cocaine found on 95 percent of the sampled bank notes. The lowest average cocaine levels appeared in bills collected from Salt Lake City.

The researchers studied 27 bank notes from Canada and found that 85 percent were contaminated with cocaine. Of the 10 bills analyzed from Brazil, eight had the drug.

Some people in the Baltimore area played down the findings.

"I don't think there's that much chance of it being a real problem," said Bryan Taylor, who describes himself as a "house rehabber" from North Baltimore. "I suppose they teach the dogs to be alert to high-enough levels. Otherwise, our airports would be in chaos. There's a horrible thought - airports even worse than they are now."

Martha Elliott, another North Baltimore resident, said it was no surprise that bank notes would become contaminated by cocaine.

But, she added, "I wonder how difficult it would be to plead your case were you to be fingered - or nosed - by a drug-sniffing dog? I suspect that that would depend a great deal on your age, color and other demographics."

In 1994, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the probative value of positive alerts by drug-sniffing dogs had been weakened by the "contamination of America's paper money supply" with drug residues.

Paper money can become tainted with cocaine during drug deals or when users snort the powder through rolled bills. The contamination can spread to other bank notes in wallets or when they are processed through currency-counting machines.

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