Estonian police wins the Europol innovation award

The Estonian Police and Border Guard has won the Europol Excellence Award in Innovation for a narcotic analyser called the Drug Hunter, developed together with the researchers from Tallinn University of Technology.

The analyser, called the Drug Hunter, is a novel and fast technical solution for rapid drug detection. While rapid saliva or urine-based tests that are commonly used for drug detection are inconvenient and inaccurate, the Drug Hunter allows for a much more convenient and reliable on-the-spot drug detection. In about six minutes, the Drug Hunter reliably identifies and qualifies narcotic drugs in an oral fluid sample.

According to Heiko Mihkelson, the head of the Estonian police’s prevention and offence proceedings bureau, such a smart solution for rapid detection of drugs will heighten the societal sense of security.

“Thanks to the Drug Hunter, the police can identify people who have used narcotic drugs and who may pose a threat to others as well as to themselves. In addition, it is essential for us that the speedy device allows us to spend significantly less working time on detecting drug usage. Currently, the police have only a small number of Drug Hunters, but in the future, time savings could be significant as more devices are added,” he said in a statement.

Drug Hunter in process. Photo by Drug Hunter.

To be fitted in any police car

Jekaterina Mazina-Shinkar, an assistant professor at the department of chemistry and biotechnology at Tallinn University of Technology and the main developer of the Drug Hunter, said the team was “immensely proud and pleased” that the results of eight years of research and development have received “so much attention” and earned the Estonian police the Europol award.

“We are already continuing the development of the Drug Hunter. Our next milestone will be to reduce the size of the narcotic analyser to fit in any police car and also to add new drug analysis protocols,” she said.

Jekaterina Mazina-Shinkar, an assistant professor at TalTech and the main developer of Drug Hunter. Photo by Drug Hunter.

The narcotic analyser project was initiated by the Estonian interior ministry and carried on by the country’s police force that described the development needs and tested the device. The award-winning device was developed in collaboration with researchers of Tallinn University of Technology and partners from Poland, including the Institute of Forensic Research and the Jagiellonian University in Krakow that validated the reliability of the equipment.

Revolutionising drug testing

The Drug Hunter was tested in 2021 and 2022 at various major festivals and in traffic surveillance, where rapid detection of possible drug intoxication of the person behind the wheel is particularly important. Last July, the narcotic analyser was also successfully used as evidence in criminal proceedings for the first time.

The Drug Hunter used in roadside testing by Estonian police. Photo by Drug Hunter.

The Estonian device was one of the three winners of the 2023 Europol Excellence Awards in Innovation, announced on 26 September at its annual European Police Chief Convention. Europol said that through leveraging advanced technologies, ensuring portability and addressing regulatory considerations, the Drug Hunter has the potential to revolutionise drug testing practices and improve public safety.

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