Today, forensic hair analysis is considered to be a standard method for identifying chronic drug users since information about drug use stored and located in hair can cover several months to even years. When interpreting these results, one should be aware of all kind of pitfalls. External factors such as bleaching might influence the analytical result. Although the effect of hydrogen peroxide on cocaine in a solution was described before, it was never investigated whether the described reaction products (ecgonine methylester, benzoylecgonine, hydroxynorcocaine and dihydroxycocaine) are indeed found on contaminated or user hair. Since it is of great importance in forensic hair analysis to know whether cocaine and/or reaction products are detectable in hair after bleaching,matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometric imaging (MALDI-MSI) was used to study the effect of hydrogen peroxide treatment on incorporated cocaine in hairs. Cocaine oxidation products were identified in a solution based on MS/MS spectra and spatial distribution of these products in hair was explored using MALDI TOF-MS. All images were accomplished by spraying a-Cyano-4-hydroxycinnamic acid (CHCA) as a MALDI-matrix. Images revealed a loss of detectability of cocaine and its reaction products in hairs already after a short bleaching period. Since all compounds of interest are found in the hydrogen peroxide and wash solution, these findings indicate that all evidence of cocaine use might be lost after a hair bleaching treatment. Therefore, forensic toxicologists should take into consideration whether hair samples were bleached before making any conclusions from hair analysis results.

Amsterdam: Elsevier
Forensic Sci. Int.

Cuypers, E, Flinders, B, Bosman, I.J, Lusthof, K.J, Van Asten, A.C, & Heeren, R.M.A. (2014). Hydrogen peroxide reactions on cocaine in hair using imaging mass spectrometry. Forensic Sci. Int., 242, 103–110. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2014.06.035