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Non-Contact Detection of Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioids

Award Information

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Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2019, $605,696)

The tremendous potency of fentanyl is of great danger to users as well as law enforcement officers. Inhalation with just milligrams can cause an overdose. For this reason, many agencies instruct their officers to avoid any direct contact with material suspected of containing fentanyl. To circumvent this risk, non-contact detection methods are preferred. Handheld detectors, such as commercially-available ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) detectors can be utilized for this purpose; however, currently established protocols using IMS require direct contact with, at minimum, the outer packaging of the contraband using a swipe sampling substrate. This research proposes the development of a method that exploits the non-contact vapor detection capability of commercial IMS detectors, while allowing for presumptive vapor sampling followed by confirmatory swab testing using a single instrument.

Often times the low volatility of target analytes prohibit instrumental vapor detection. In this research, the vapor signature of fentanyl and analogues will be determined. The identified vaporous analytes will then be used as targets for detection. Using vapor signature as the detection target instead of the lower-volatility parent molecule has the potential to greatly improve limit of detection. In addition, changing from vapor to particle sampling modes in the hand held IMS is simple, giving the added benefit of subsequent swipe sampling if desired.

In the first phase of research, the vapor profile of fentalogs will be studied using solid phase microextraction with gas chromatography/ mass spectrometry (SPME-GC/MS) to identify the appropriate targets for vapor detection by IMS. A protocol for generating a steady stream of this vaporous mixture will be established and then used for further method development. In phase two, IMS detection of the fentanyl vapor will be optimized for both benchtop and handheld IMS detection. Finally, figures of merit including limit of detection, reproducibility, false alarm rate, and performance with mixtures will be determined. Both phases of research will use pharmaceutical-grade opioids, and will then be validated against street-relevant mixtures. Results from each phase will be described in peer-reviewed journal articles and NRL reports. Additionally, results from Phases 1 and 2 will generate deployable detection protocols.

The research addresses the OSAC need ""Integration of canine and instrumental detector"" which describes the need for a complimentary instrumental approach for canine detectors, as well as the Forensic Science TWG Operation Requirement for "novel and/or improved evidence recognition, collection, and visualization tools and analytical instrumentation for field and lab use."

Date Created: December 11, 2020