This article reports the application of ambient sampling portable mass spectrometry in on-site screening of clandestine drug operations.
Worldwide trends in illicit drug use and production have shifted toward an increase in synthetic analogues and the emergence of new variations in their manufacture. Regulation of common precursors and existing psychoactive substances have led to modifications in clandestine synthetic pathways to use alternate starting materials and produce new structural variants that mimic previous illicit chemicals in physical and physiological properties, while not being officially scheduled through the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The application of ambient sampling portable mass spectrometry (MS) systems to assist in combating clandestine drug operations represents a potential improvement toward on-site evidence screening over traditional colorimetric or solubility-based field kits, providing superior chemical discrimination with high accuracy, while simultaneously yielding information regarding cutting agents that may also be present. Coupling ambient ionization methods to these portable systems enables direct screening of potential evidence present in any state, from unknown white powders to the volatile solvents used during drug extraction and cleanup. (publisher abstract modified)