Researchers at APG are creating a synthetic drug detector

ABERDEEN, Md. - A couple charged with child neglect was found by police over the weekend in Annapolis.  Officers say they were passed out in their car while their infant was in the back seat.

Police believe they coupled passed out after smoking synthetic marijuana . Officers found a bag of K2 in the car. 

RELATED: Parents' arrest highlights danger of synthetic marijuana

Investigators had to send that substance out to a lab to confirm it is synthetic marijuana.  Right now, scientists at Aberdeen Proving Ground are creating a device to help police test for synthetic drugs.

Today, our camera saw the work underway inside their labs (see video). 

A team of four material engineers at the Army Research Lab at Aberdeen Proving Ground will soon help with police work and cracking down on synthetic drugs.  They are creating a device to detect synthetics in the field. 

MORE: Synthetic drugs in high demand in Maryland

"Once we figured out what synthetic cannabinoids were, they were present and very highly used within the military community, that's when they were reaching out to address this issue," said Dr. Mark Griep.

The team has been working with fancy equipment and liquids that glow in the dark for about two years.  Dr. Griep breaks down the science behind it all.

"We use the same receptors that are in the human body.  So when somebody develops a synthetic drug, they are looking for that drug to interact with a specific receptor in the body.  We've been able to use that exact same receptor, build it into our system and in essence engineer a threshold level so anything that binds to that receptor really strongly and activates that receptor will turn on the sensor," said Dr. Griep.    

Two years ago, the Army Criminal Investigation Command looked into over 1600 cases involving spice, bath salts, and other synthetic drugs.  Dr. Griep says it's known that synthetics are tougher on the body.

"The synthetic versions of marijuana bind to that receptor about a thousand times harder," said Dr. Griep.   

The team at the ARL hopes to have a working sensor for police by the end of the year. They say it will be able to detect synthetics even if a new drug comes out.

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