Cocaine contamination of United States paper currency

J Anal Toxicol. 1996 Jul-Aug;20(4):213-6. doi: 10.1093/jat/20.4.213.


The exchange of illicit cocaine for money by drug dealers is an everyday occurrence in cities in the United States. There is ample opportunity during the exchange, storage, and use of cocaine for paper currency to become contaminated. Because currency is exchanged frequently, it is likely that contaminated currency would be found in common use. We examined ten single dollar bills from several cities in the United States for the presence of cocaine. Individual bills were extracted with methanol (10 mL). Cocaine was purified from the methanol extract by solid-phase extraction (SPE). The SPE extract was analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Standard curves were constructed with new, uncirculated currency. Cocaine was identified qualitatively by full scan and quantitated by selected ion monitoring. Cocaine was present in 79% of the currency samples analyzed in amounts above 0.1 micrograms and in 54% of the currency in amounts above 1.0 micrograms. Contamination was widespread and was found in currency from all sites examined. Cocaine amounts were highly variable and ranged from nanogram to milligram amounts. The highest amount of cocaine detected on a single one-dollar bill was 1327 micrograms. These results indicated that cocaine contamination of currency is widespread throughout the United States and is likely to be primarily a result of cross-contamination from other contaminated currency and from contaminated money-counting machines.

MeSH terms

  • Cocaine / analysis*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Humans
  • Paper / standards*
  • United States


  • Cocaine