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High Resolution Mass Spectrometry Screening in Forensic Toxicology: Cost Benefit Analysis

Award Information

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Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Past Project Period End Date
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Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2018, $306,688)

The proliferation of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in the United States over the past two decades has significantly changed the landscape of forensic toxicology investigations. The criminal justice and medico-legal community relies upon effective and reliable toxicological drug screening to identify new threats, ensure the effective and impartial administration of justice, and protect public safety. The emergence of numerous designer drug classes, including synthetic cannabinoids, cathinones, psychedelics, benzodiazepines, novel opioids and fentanyl analogs, presents a formidable challenge to operational forensic laboratories.

Immunoassay (IA) is the most commonly used technique in forensic toxicology screening. Despite the many advantages of this approach, its effectiveness in light of the need to identify an ever-growing number of new and emerging drugs, has been called into question. It has been suggested that high resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) will replace immunoassay-based screening, since it offers flexibility, sensitivity and improved selectivity. However, operational laboratories have been slow to adopt this new technology because of limited resources, complexity of operation, and training needs associated with its implementation.

In this study, liquid chromatography-quadrupole-time of flight mass spectrometry (LC-QTOF-MS) will be used to develop, optimize and validate comprehensive drug screening methods that meet published standards and recommendations for forensic investigations. The new method will be used to analyze authentic blood samples from two populations of impaired drivers in Texas and California that were previously tested using immunoassay. Following the direct comparison of IA and HRMS-based screening results, a full cost-benefit analysis will be undertaken. The performance and effectiveness of each approach will be evaluated in terms of fiscal impact, resource management, training, and technological challenges. This comprehensive approach will not only provide new scientific methods for toxicological screening that meet the needs of the criminal justice system, but it will also provide valuable insight to operational forensic laboratories who may be considering this technological shift.

This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law, and complies with Part 200 Uniform Requirements - 2 CFR 200.210(a)(14).


Date Created: September 27, 2018