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Development of Paper Spray Mass Spectrometry for the Detection of Acetyl Fentanyl and Synthetic Cannabinoids

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $48,406)

As submitted by the proposer: Designer drugs pose a new threat to public welfare and a challenge to forensic chemists and toxicologists. These “legal highs” use molecules that elicit similar effects to that of scheduled drugs, but, have distinct structures that fall outside of legal restriction. Synthetic cannabinoids represent a significant problem due in part to the libraries of structures available from pharmaceutical research into THC as a therapeutic. As new structures become scheduled the manufacturers of these products change the active ingredient to skirt the law. Unfortunately for the users potency and dosage is poorly controlled and can often lead to toxicity and hospitalization. Similarly, heroin is being spiked with the adulterant acetyl fentanyl, an opioid with a potency roughly 50 times that of heroin, resulting in a spike of fatal heroin overdoses. Current analytical procedures often fail to detect these drugs or are unsuitable for routine analysis due to a lack of specificity or sensitivity or because they entail a lengthy analysis with steep training requirements. Paper spray mass spectrometry is a simple technique where a drop of biofluid is analyzed directly from a paper substrate without any sample preparation or chromatography work. Due to its minimal sample requirements and rapid analysis, paper spray would be a valuable tool in the detection of designer drugs. However, due to matrix effects and ion suppression, paper spray currently lacks the sensitivity required to detect synthetic cannabinoids which, due to their increased potency, can have biologically relevant concentrations in the pg/mL range. The aim of the proposed work would be to evaluate the role of the spray substrate on analysis. Work published from our lab suggests that the substrate can serve to bind matrix components and improve signal. Ion suppression and matrix effects will be evaluated with varying substrates to find a material to maximize analyte signal. Using this material, a spray cartridge will be prototyped and a procedure will be developed to detect synthetic cannabinoids and acetyl fentanyl. In addition, a screening procedure will be developed using a Q-Exactive Focus that utilizes data dependent scanning to detect classes of synthetic cannabinoids based on the fragmentation patterns and gather information on potential new synthetic cannabinoids that may not be reported yet. The ultimate goal of this research is to make paper spray viable for routine detection and screening of synthetic cannabinoids and acetyl fentanyl.

Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law.

Date Created: July 18, 2016