As submitted by the applicant: The identification and characterization of synthetic designer drugs is a formidable, yet not insurmountable, challenge in forensic science. Identification of any controlled substance is typically based on comparison of mass spectral data between the questioned sample and a suitable reference standard. However, this comparison is often visual in nature, providing no statistical assessment of the veracity of the identification, which has become more desirable since publication of the National Academy of Sciences report in 2009. Synthetic designer drugs provide an additional challenge for identification: due to their evolving nature, reference standards are not immediately available for comparison yet identification is still necessary to determine the legal status of the unknown.
This research will provide tools to enhance current methods for the identification of synthetic designer drugs, focusing initially on the synthetic phenethylamines for which a number of structural subclasses exist. For those drugs for which a reference standard is already available, a method that provides a statistical assessment of the veracity of the identification based on spectral comparisons will be further refined. Then, high-resolution mass spectrometry will be used to gain deeper understanding of the structure of a selection of synthetic phenethylamines. The resulting data will be used to generate a mass spectral interpretation scheme to characterize an unknown to a structural subclass of the phenethylamines. Data will also be probed to identify spectral features diagnostic for each structural subclass. Such information will be of great utility in the analysis of new analogs for which no reference standards are available.
The research will primarily be conducted at Michigan State University in collaboration with the Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division. This collaboration will provide input and feedback regarding the procedures and training methods developed, along with access to street samples seized in Michigan, which will give the research greater practicality.
The tools developed in this research will be disseminated as a conference workshop, conference presentations, and journal publications. The spectral data collected will be added to existing databases to increase the current knowledge base for these compounds. Finally, all collected data, workshop materials, and conference presentations will be submitted to NIJ, along with the final research summary. Through training and dissemination, this research will provide forensic chemists with tools that enhance methods currently used for the identification of controlled substances, particularly synthetic designer drugs.
This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law.