Estonian police wins Europol's innovation award

  • 2023-10-09
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN – Estonia has been chosen as one of the three winners of the 2023 Europol Excellence Awards in Innovation for a drug testing device developed together with researchers from the Tallinn University of Technology.

On Sept. 26, Europol announced the winners of the 2023 Europol Excellence Awards in Innovation at its annual European Police Chief Convention. The award in the innovative technical solution category went to the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board for the development and implementation of the Drug Hunter narcotic analyzer. Through leveraging advanced technologies, ensuring portability and addressing regulatory considerations, this tool has the potential to revolutionize drug testing practices and improve public safety, Europol said. 

While traditional rapid tests to detect drug intoxication are saliva or urine-based, which are inconvenient and inaccurate, the Drug Hunter allows for a much more convenient and reliable on-the-spot drug test. In about six minutes, the Drug Hunter saliva test will tell officers if and which drugs a person has taken.

Heiko Mihkelson, head of the prevention and procedure office at the Police and Border Guard Board, said the smart tool for the quick detection of drug intoxication increases the sense of security of the entire society.

"Thanks to Drug Hunter, the police are able to identify people who have used drugs, who may pose a danger to others as well as to themselves, and it is also important for us that thanks to the rapid reply from the device, it takes significantly less working time to detect a drug intoxication than before. At the moment, the police still have few Drug Hunters, but in the future, the time gain from their deployment could be significant," Mihkelson said.

Jekaterina Mazina-Sinkar, junior professor at the TalTech Institute of Chemistry and Biotechnology and the developer of Drug Hunter, said the  development of the device will continue.

"Our next goal is to reduce the size of the narcotic analyzer to fit in every police car and also to add new drug analysis protocols," Mazina-Sinkar said.

The narcotic analyzer project was initiated by the Estonian Ministry of the Interior and taken over by the Police and Border Guard Board, which set out the requirements for the device and tested it. The award-winning device was developed in collaboration with TalTech researchers and partners from Poland, including the Institute of Forensic Science and the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, who validated the reliability of the device.

Drug Hunter was tested in 2021 and 2022 at various major festivals and in traffic control, where it is especially important to quickly identify the possible drug intoxication of a person behind the wheel. In July of last year, a reading from the narcotic analyzer was successfully used as evidence in criminal proceedings for the first time.