Forensic Groß

Mi­cro De­tec­ti­ves – The Fu­ture of Fo­ren­sic Drug Ana­ly­sis

Fo­ren­sic To­xi­co­lo­gy is the re­se­arch field that aids me­di­cal or le­gal in­ves­ti­ga­ti­ons of de­ath, poi­so­ning, and drug use, using ana­ly­ti­cal che­mis­try. In this ar­tic­le, you will find out how fo­ren­sic drug ana­ly­sis is hand­led curr­ent­ly and learn more about an in­no­va­ti­ve so­lu­ti­on that has the po­ten­ti­al to re­vo­lu­tio­ni­ze the fu­ture of fo­ren­sic to­xi­co­lo­gy.

Ri­sing Tide of New Il­li­cit Sub­s­tances Chal­lenges Drug Test­ing Tech­no­lo­gies

In re­cent ye­ars, the­re has been a no­ta­ble in­crease in the va­rie­ty and avai­la­bi­li­ty of sub­s­tances wi­thin the drug mar­ket. This ex­pan­si­on en­com­pas­ses a shift away from con­ven­tio­nal plant-ba­sed sub­s­tances like can­na­bis, co­ca­i­ne, and he­ro­in, towards a more dy­na­mic land­scape cha­rac­te­ri­zed by the emer­gence of syn­the­tic drugs (e.g., am­phet­ami­ne-type sub­s­tances) and the il­li­cit use of phar­maceu­ti­cals (e.g., opio­ids). In ad­di­ti­on, the­re has been an emer­gence of over 1000 no­vel psy­choac­ti­ve sub­s­tances (NPS), span­ning across se­ve­ral ca­te­go­ries such as sti­mu­lants, can­na­bi­no­ids, hal­lu­ci­n­o­gens, and opio­ids (e.g., fen­ta­nyl ana­logs). The­se are available in va­rious forms, in­clu­ding pow­ders, ta­blets, cap­su­les, li­quids, oils, sprays, bo­ta­ni­cal ma­te­ri­al, and im­preg­na­ted blot­ter pa­per. The­se NPS re­pre­sent a par­ti­cu­lar­ly alar­ming group of sub­s­tances due to their un­pre­dic­ta­ble and fre­quent se­ve­re he­alth ef­fects. The­se de­ve­lo­p­ments make it in­cre­asing­ly re­le­vant for la­bo­ra­to­ry tech­no­lo­gy to in­no­va­te and gua­ran­tee safe, re­lia­ble drug tests for the­se in­sti­tu­tes that per­form such ana­ly­ses for pu­blic he­alth and se­cu­ri­ty (e.g. law en­force­ment agen­ci­es, cus­toms ser­vices, drug test­ing ser­vices, and drug che­cking ser­vice).

Fo­ren­sic To­xi­co­lo­gy

The field in ques­ti­on is fo­ren­sic to­xi­co­lo­gy. This area of re­se­arch spe­cia­li­zes on de­tec­ting spe­ci­fic sub­s­tances – e.g. le­gal as well as il­li­cit drugs – in the hu­man body. Me­thods that enable such test­ing are num­e­rous and come with cha­rac­te­ristic ad­van­ta­ges along with some di­s­ad­van­ta­ges. Fo­ren­sic drug test­ing ty­pi­cal­ly in­vol­ves two steps: scree­ning and con­fir­ma­ti­on.

Drug Ana­ly­sis: Scree­ning

A very com­mon way for scree­ning is pre­sump­ti­ve tests. They can only in­di­ca­te whe­ther the sub­s­tance is pre­sent, but not iden­ti­fy it. Co­lor tests are an ex­am­p­le for such me­thod: By com­bi­ning or ex­po­sing a su­spec­ted sub­s­tance to spe­ci­fic che­mi­cals, it pro­du­ces a co­lo­red so­lu­ti­on, in­di­ca­ting the pre­sence of a par­ti­cu­lar drug or che­mi­cal group. They are in­ex­pen­si­ve, do not re­qui­re spe­cial ex­per­ti­se and are even quite pre­cise. But they are not suf­fi­ci­ent for iden­ti­fi­ca­ti­on or mix­tures of sub­s­tances and don’t work for all drugs. The­r­e­fo­re, pre­sump­ti­ve tests can be seen as an in­iti­al stage of drug ana­ly­sis, fol­lo­wed by a more de­tail­ed and sub­stan­tia­ted ex­ami­na­ti­on, which is whe­re the con­fir­ma­ti­on step co­mes into play.

Drug Ana­ly­sis: Con­fir­ma­ti­on

The samples are sent to la­bo­ra­to­ries for con­fir­ma­ti­on tests that enable hig­her le­vels of sen­si­ti­vi­ty and sel­ec­ti­vi­ty. Be­cau­se of its, so far, un­beata­ble le­vel of dis­cri­mi­na­ti­on, the me­thod used the most and the cur­rent gold stan­dard in fo­ren­sic drug ana­ly­sis is GC-MS (gas chro­ma­to­gra­phy com­bi­ned with mass spec­tro­me­try). GC re­li­es on se­pa­ra­ting vo­la­ti­le samples ac­cor­ding to their di­stinct af­fi­ni­ties for the co­lumn. Du­ring this pro­cess, tar­get drug com­pounds wi­thin the sam­ple are iden­ti­fied by their re­ten­ti­on times as they pass th­rough chro­ma­to­gra­phic co­lum­ns. When cou­pled with MS, GC be­co­mes a po­tent tech­ni­que ca­pa­ble of iden­ti­fy­ing the struc­tures of unknown com­pounds af­ter be­ing se­pa­ra­ted by GC. With this me­thod, il­li­cit drugs can not only be con­firm­ed but even quan­ti­fied, which al­lows for even more pre­cise in­for­ma­ti­on about the sam­ple. Ho­we­ver, as one can al­re­a­dy gather, this me­thod also co­mes with down­si­des. It of­ten re­qui­res a high­ly equip­ped la­bo­ra­to­ry with cor­re­spon­din­gly high run­ning cos­ts as well as spe­cial know-how, which makes them dif­fi­cult to ac­cess. Even though the ran­ge of me­a­sura­ble sub­s­tances is hig­her than with scree­ning me­thods, cer­tain drugs show mi­ni­mal mass spec­tral frag­men­ta­ti­on pat­terns, which crea­tes a need to ad­di­tio­nal­ly use li­quid chro­ma­to­gra­phy with tan­dem MS (LC-MS-MS), for ex­am­p­le, which ad­di­tio­nal­ly in­crea­ses the fi­nan­cial bur­den. With the im­portance of drug ana­ly­sis in mind, pre­vious­ly sta­ted, the fo­ren­sic to­xi­co­lo­gy field lacks an in­stru­men­tal so­lu­ti­on that com­bi­nes the ad­van­ta­ges of both di­sci­pli­nes: the easy, ac­ces­si­ble, and ver­sa­ti­le use of a scree­ning and the pre­cis­i­on and quan­ti­fi­ca­ti­on of GC-MS.

SICRIT as a Smart So­lu­ti­on to Re­vo­lu­tio­ni­ze Drug Ana­ly­sis

In a re­cent stu­dy, a new­ly de­ve­lo­ped ther­mal de­sorp­ti­on set­up, fea­turing the SICRIT ion source, could de­mons­tra­te such a so­lu­ti­on. By ana­ly­zing fin­ger­prints – or more pre­cis­e­ly their bio­films – on a simp­le glass slide, il­li­cit drugs like co­ca­i­ne, fen­ta­nyl, and he­ro­in could be iden­ti­fied, which al­lo­wed for con­fir­ma­ti­on of use or cont­act with said drugs. This me­thod is fast (less than 2 min), sen­si­ti­ve (pg LODs), ro­bust, sel­ec­ti­ve, al­lows semi-quan­ti­fi­ca­ti­on (due to ma­nu­al sam­ple in­tro­duc­tion and re­la­tively low scan rate of the MS) and does not need com­plex sam­ple pretre­at­ment. Fur­ther­mo­re, the me­thod can me­a­su­re all kinds of il­li­cit drugs, ir­re­spec­ti­ve of its kind or form. It of­fers lo­we­red cos­ts by re­du­cing the need of no­ble ga­ses and using an in­ex­pen­si­ve sam­pling de­vice (glass slide). SICRIT en­ables to bridge the gap bet­ween scree­ning and con­fir­ma­ti­on by com­bi­ning a fast, easy and ac­ces­si­ble but also a sen­si­ti­ve, sel­ec­ti­ve and all-in­clu­si­ve fo­ren­sic drug ana­ly­sis. Hence, the two steps can be re­du­ced to one me­thod, which im­parts its in­no­va­ti­ve cha­rac­ter to it.

If you want to learn more about this stu­dy and dive into the fu­ture of fo­ren­sic drug ana­ly­sis, ac­cess the cor­re­spon­ding pa­per on this web­site.