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In a finding that gives new meaning to drug money, two University of Alabama at Birmingham students have found traces of methamphetamine on U.S. dollar bills in the Birmingham area - the first time meth has been found since the UAB lab began testing currency in 2008.

In 2009, the UAB students found as much as 65 percent of $1 bills in Birmingham had traces of cocaine, but this is the first time meth -- a highly addictive stimulant - has been found, said Elizabeth Gardner, a justices sciences professor who oversaw the project.

"We are now researching to see what we can learn from this," she said. "Can we see how meth spreads through an area, or learn about differences in regions."

The students, Jessi Mann and Brandon Fultz, found a higher incidence of meth in the northern part of Jefferson County than in downtown Birmingham.

In the first round of testing from a home-improvement center in the northern part of the county, the students found that 17 of 20 $1 bills were contaminated with meth. From a downtown Birmingham fast food restaurant, only two had traces of meth.

That doesn't surprise Jefferson County Sheriff's spokesman Randy Christian, who told UAB that it mirrors the arrests made.

"The majority of the meth-related arrests seem to occur in northern and western Jefferson County while central and southern parts see fewer of these types of arrests."

So how do the dollars get on drugs, er, drugs get on dollars?

The popular belief is that bills are contaminated by money counting machines in banks and the federal reserve, Gardner said. A few highly contaminated bills - perhaps used to snort the drug -- get into the machinery and infect the other bills.

Gardner suspects that perspiration may also play a role in contamination. But more study is needed.

The work, being done in the lab in the Department of Justice Sciences, is part of a broader study set to be published in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's "Micogram Journal" later this year, said UAB spokesman Kevin Storr.

Published October 25, 2012 at 2:36 PM, updated October 25, 2012 at 5:02 PM

By: Mike Oliver | moliver@al.comThe Birmingham News  al.com

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