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Non-contact detection of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids: Towards a generalized approach to the detection of dangerous drug clases

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $642,632)

The illicit use of potent opioids pose a danger to users, law enforcement, and the public. Non-contact detection of vapors associated with hazardous drugs enables a safe and effective tool for their presumptive identification. Commercially available handheld ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) was utilized in the vaporous identification of fentanyl and related synthetic opioids. Proposed efforts will improve detection sensitivity using a novel preconcentrator and expand to include the vapor identification of designer benzodiazepines (DBs) and related substances. The goal of the research is to develop a highly sensitive method of non-contact field detection of these two drug classes (DBs and synthetic opioids) by focusing on the detection of vaporous surrogate compounds that are representative of the majority of the drug class. Furthermore, the proposed work provides a generalized analytical approach that is adaptable to other dangerous low volatility drug classes.

The identification of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with the drug class of interest allows for detection without manipulation of the dangerous substances. Prior efforts have already identified N-phenylpropanamide, NPP, and aniline as vapor surrogates of fentanyl-related opioids. Solid-phase microextraction (SPME) coupled with gas chromatography / mass spectrometry (GC/MS) will be used to elucidate the vapor signature of DBs. In order to improve sensitivity metrics associated with IMS-based detection a functionalized Silicon Nanowire (SiNW) arrays for the preconcentration of vaporous compounds associated with the synthetic opioids and DBs will be developed. Having already developed a method for coating SiNW arrays with acrylate-based polymers and established a library of coated devices, preconcentration efficiency will be screened to identify the coating best suited for surrogate collection using the quartz crystal microbalance. Upon selection of optimal polymer, sorbent paper will be coated with the selected polymer for an economical, simple, and robust method for the collection of VOCs from confiscated samples from a variety of crime labs. Use of this new collection method will be accessible to the inexperienced/untrained technician saving time and money while expanding the sampling pool of confiscated samples.

These proposed efforts address the OSAC research need, “Limitations of field techniques in laboratory analysis”, as well as the NIJ Crime Scene Examination topic, “Field Detection of Drugs and Explosives” by addressing the knowledge gaps associated with target identification and realization of trace vapor detection in a field-setting. The work will reduce the risks associated with working a seized drug crime scene while improving non-contact detection of concealed contraband. CA/NCF

Date Created: September 27, 2022