Performance evaluation of handheld Raman spectroscopy for cocaine detection in forensic case samples

Ruben F. Kranenburg*, Joshka Verduin, Renee de Ridder, Yannick Weesepoel, Martin Alewijn, Marcel Heerschop, Peter H.J. Keizers, Annette van Esch, Arian C. van Asten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Handheld Raman spectroscopy is an emerging technique for rapid on-site detection of drugs of abuse. Most devices are developed for on-scene operation with a user interface that only shows whether cocaine has been detected. Extensive validation studies are unavailable, and so are typically the insight in raw spectral data and the identification criteria. This work evaluates the performance of a commercial handheld Raman spectrometer for cocaine detection based on (i) its performance on 0–100 wt% binary cocaine mixtures, (ii) retrospective comparison of 3,168 case samples from 2015 to 2020 analyzed by both gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS) and Raman, (iii) assessment of spectral selectivity, and (iv) comparison of the instrument's on-screen results with combined partial least square regression (PLS-R) and discriminant analysis (PLS-DA) models. The limit of detection was dependent on sample composition and varied between 10 wt% and 40 wt% cocaine. Because the average cocaine content in street samples is well above this limit, a 97.5% true positive rate was observed in case samples. No cocaine false positives were reported, although 12.5% of the negative samples were initially reported as inconclusive by the built-in software. The spectral assessment showed high selectivity for Raman peaks at 1,712 (cocaine base) and 1,716 cm−1 (cocaine HCl). Combined PLS-R and PLS-DA models using these features confirmed and further improved instrument performance. This study scientifically assessed the performance of a commercial Raman spectrometer, providing useful insight on its applicability for both presumptive detection and legally valid evidence of cocaine presence for law enforcement.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDrug Testing and Analysis
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Dec 2020


  • illicit drug analysis
  • on-scene detection
  • portable device
  • Raman spectrometer
  • TruNarc


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