Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $96,741)
The field of drug chemistry continues to drastically change with the persistent influx of novel psychoactive substances (NPS). Laboratories continue to struggle to keep up with these emerging drugs as their analytical workflows are stressed by a number of issues including difficulties in isomer differentiation, screening tools with diminishing utility, increasing toxicity of samples, and challenges in detecting and identifying unknowns. Stresses such as these are major drivers to increased backlogs, which have risen over 2500 % between 2015 and 2019 at the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division (MSP-FSD).
To help address these challenges, a new analytical workflow is being developed at MSP-FSD that will allow for more sensitive, more rapid, and more data-rich analyses. New workflow uses direct analysis in real-time mass spectrometry (DART-MS) for screening samples, followed by confirmatory analysis using targeted gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) methods with locked retention times and well-documented limitations. Methods for the analysis of synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, and opioids have been developed and have demonstrated measurable gains in compound confirmation over traditional, generic GC-MS analyses. New workflow will also provide harmonization of analytical protocols and results across laboratories within the MSP-FSD system.
While initial steps to develop the new workflow are currently being finalized through an expiring NIJ grant, additional needs have been identified that, if addressed, will (1) further increase the utility of the workflow at MSP-FSD and (2) allow for external laboratories to easily adopt and adapt the confirmation portion of the workflow regardless of screening techniques available. This will be accomplished through: (1) development of six additional targeted GC-MS methods, (2) development of an optimized general analysis GC-MS method that can successfully identify and separate the most frequently seen drugs from their isomers and challenge compounds (development of this method also facilitates adoption of targeted methods by laboratories that do not use DART-MS for screening), (3) establishing best practices for retention time locking and measuring column stability, and (4) deployment and evaluation of the general analysis and targeted GC-MS methods at MSP-FSD and by other forensic laboratories. Successful completion of this work, along with parallel efforts in transitioning away from net weights, developing quantitation capabilities, and establishing forensic intelligence capabilities using DART-MS will allow for full implementation of the new workflow at MSP-FSD while providing a suite of analytical methods to the seized drug community for adoption or adaptation which will facilitate data interpretation and data sharing.