Friday, August 21, 2009

Drugs R Us

Back in the late 50s, when I was an Operations Officer at a bank branch in Salem, Oregon we were contacted by an FBI agent friend of mine who wanted to bring in some currency they had recovered in a drug bust. This was in the days before banks had strict guidelines for handling contaminated currency, so I told him to go ahead and bring it in and we’d take care of it.

He and another agent brought it in – all wadded up in baggies and socks and other assorted unconventional containers. The FBI agents unwrapped it all and gave it to us to count. A teller and I spent about an hour sorting and counting it all. In the end it didn’t amount to all that much money but boy was it a mess.

As we were winding down I asked one of the agents, “So, in your experience is it dangerous to handle drug money like this?”

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and handled money from lots of different drug busts and it’s never been a problem for me.” And then he paused and added, “But I wouldn’t lick my fingers!”

Which brings me to that old myth that all money is contaminated with cocaine. I never really believed it – until now. CNN ran a story this week that states “90 percent of U.S. Bills carry traces of cocaine.”

You may want to read the entire article but here’s a few highlights:

* Money can be contaminated with cocaine during drug deals or if a user snorts with a bill. But not all bills are involved in drug use; they can get contaminated inside currency-counting machines at the bank. (These bills have fewer remnants of cocaine. Some of the dollars in this experiment had .006 micrograms, which is several thousands of times smaller than a single grain of sand.)

* Cocaine binds to the green dye in money. Scientists say the amount of cocaine found on bills is not enough to cause health risks.

* Although the contaminated bills do not affect health, they could cause a false positive drug test if a person, such as a law enforcement officer or banker, handles contaminated currency repeatedly.

* For years, health agencies have advised people to wash their hands after touching cash for sanitary reasons. Disease-causing organisms such as staphylococcus aureus and pneumonia-causing bacteria have been detected in paper bills. According to a 2002 study published in the Southern Medical Journal, 94 percent of the tested bills had potentially disease-causing organisms.

Bills turned up positive for cocaine in these percentages in certain cities:

100 percent:
* Detroit, Michigan
* Boston, Massachusetts
* Orlando, Florida
* Los Angeles, California

88 percent:
* Toronto, Canada

77 percent:
* Salt Lake City, Utah

75 percent:
* Brasilia, Brazil

20 percent:
* Tokyo, Japan;
* Beijing, China

0 percent:
* Zhuzhou, China

Bills turned up positive for cocaine in these percentages in certain countries:

90 percent:
* United States

85 percent:
* Canada

80 percent:
* Brazil

20 percent:
* China

12 percent:
* Japan

All that got me to thinking; if they tested currency for other substances I wonder what other stuff they might find. While there’s no way to know for sure, I think we can make a few educated guesses . . .

Seattle, Washington: 90% of bills contaminated with coffee grounds. (I know I went for the obvious with this one.)

Washington, D.C.: 89% of bills contaminated with slime but Congress promises it will all be cleaned up as soon as new health care legislation is passed.

Eugene, Oregon: 63% of bills contaminated with hemp

Springfield, Oregon: 43% of bills contaminated with sawdust

Junction City, Oregon: In the week after the Scandinavian Festival, 84% of bills contaminated with lefsa, lutefisk, aebelskiver and those groovy meat pies (runza?).

Florence, Oregon: 100% of bills contaminated with sand – mostly in places you didn’t know sand could exist.

Roseburg, Oregon: 52% of bills have been singed through spontaneous combustion due to their proximity to the Roseburg Branch and their HVAC system.

North Bend, Oregon: No bills are contaminated but a city ordinance prohibits the passing of any bill that may have been touched by a resident of Coos Bay.

Coos Bay, Oregon: No bills are contaminated but a city ordinance prohibits the passing of any bill that may have been touched – or even viewed - by a resident of North Bend.

Myrtle Creek, Oregon: While you would expect the fresh scent of myrtlewood to permeate bills passing through this town, the truth is that 32% are contaminated with vehicle exhaust from nearby I-5.

Tillamook, Oregon: 79% of bills contaminated with cheese. Medium cheddar, of course.

Pendleton, Oregon: 62% of bills contaminated with horse manure. (Increases to 100% during the Pendleton Roundup.)

Bend, Oregon: 34% of bills contaminated with juniper.

Reno, Nevada: 99% of bills contaminated with filthy lucre.

Sacramento, California: There is no currency in California - only Registered Warrants.

Fargo, North Dakota: 41% of bills not contaminated but still soggy from last winter’s flooding.

Minneapolis, Minnesota: While no bills are contaminated, they have all been reduced in size by 5%

And remember: Don’t lick your fingers!

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