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Development of Modern Microcrystal Tests for Controlled Drugs, Diverted Pharmaceuticals and Bath Salts

Award Information

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

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $122,428)

As submitted by the applicant (abbreviated): A common microanalytical method for forensic drug analysis is the use of microcrystal tests where the most generally useful ones are based on recognizable morphology, not of the original test substance but of precipitates formed by adding a reagent to an aqueous solution of the sample. Basically, each chemical compound can be precipitated from a drop of solution by one or more of a group of specific reagents, and each gives a characteristic crystalline precipitate. Microcrystal tests are performed by mixing a small drop of the test drop with a small drop of the reagent on a microscope slide. Once developed, microcrystal tests are inexpensive, sensitive, reliable and quick to perform. In a few fields, especially in drug detection, they are widely used and, related literature continues to grow. However, many of these tests were developed in the mid- 20th century, there are no microcrystal tests for newer, contemporary drugs, including 1) pharmaceutical prescription drugs that are being abused and diverted from their intended recipients, and 2) synthetic cathinones commonly found “bath salts” which is a popular term used for some designer drugs. Based on the most recent reports compiled by the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS), there are a number of such emerging drugs and pharmaceuticals that are seeing a marked increase in abuse and misuse nationally, Microcrystal tests are best used to check for specific entities (drugs). Currently, numerous crime laboratories throughout the United States use the light microscope and microcrystal tests to correlate and confirm the results obtained by other analytical methods. However, after a thorough literature review, there are now a number of controlled substances for which there are presently no known microcrystal tests. This research will meet that need by developing new microcrystal tests and provide the details of each test for twelve (12) controlled substances for which no microcrystal tests are currently available; including six that are found in so-called “bath salts.” These 12 drugs and the microcrystal test conditions and reagents resulting from this research will be added to the Microcrystal Compendium; a free online reference manual containing a full- color database of microcrystal tests for controlled substances originally developed and compiled by McCrone Research Institute (McCrone). This research and the Microcrystal Compendium also include optical properties of the precipitates that are formed (which are often missing in other resources) and additional drugs and drug tests that should provide analysts with better information for testing procedures and courtroom testimony. Therefore, analysts will not have to depend only on the shapes of the crystalline precipitates but can utilize other legally defensible properties such as refractive index, birefringence, extinction, sign of elongation, etc. [...] The new microcrystal tests and procedures will be vetted, developed and appraised by McCrone forensic research microscopists and instructors in voluntary collaboration with practicing forensic scientists in other laboratories, namely the University of Illinois at Chicago, Penn State University, Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and Washington State Patrol Crime Lab. Each microcrystal test developed and selected for the Microcrystal Compendium will include recommended protocols and morphologies of crystals (including photomicrographs), infrared spectra of microcrystals, potential interferences, and optical crystallographic properties of the resultant microcrystals. This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law. ca/ncf
Date Created: September 21, 2015