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Rapid In-Field Analysis of Illicit Substances in Unknown Powders and Aerosols

Award Information

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

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2020, $150,000)

Increased availability and use of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid used as an adulterant in commonly abused drugs, has led to a drastic increase in accidental exposures and overdoses in the last decade. Whereas drug adulteration places unknowing users at risk, responders are also at risk due to exposure from accidental aerosolization. Therefore, a fast, accurate, and portable drug analysis platform is needed for crime scene analysis and field use to inform real-time decision-making by responders. Existing methods to analyze drugs generally require off-site, specialized analyses, and/or invasive blood draws. These methods are costly, time-intensive, and contribute to the large sample backlog in crime laboratories. With the introduction of a reliable and practical drug field test, we have the potential to reduce backlog in crime laboratories, maintain safe roads, protect officers responding to crime scenes, and better help overdose victims. Here, we propose an electrochemical sensor for field detection and of illicit substances in solid samples and aerosols. We focus on some of the most widely trafficked drugs, including cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine. Electrochemical sensors are advantageous as they are fast, cost-effective, and miniaturizable. Clever methods to add selectivity and sensitivity to the measurements that take advantage of fundamental chemical concepts will be explored. We propose the development of a field deployable electrode system and a portable potentiostat (the “SweepStat”) for in-field drug detection. We will also validate the sensing method against commercial potentiostats. The final sensors will be portable and capable of detecting the illicit drugs in dissolved solids and/or aerosols representing a game-changing advance in point-of-use forensics with clear implications to streamlining the judicial processes.

Date Created: September 20, 2020