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A More Timely Process for Identifying and Analyzing Trends of Emerging Novel Psychoactive Substances in the United States

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2019
355 pages

This dissertation presents the findings and methodology of research that used novel drug screening technologies and customized methodologies to characterize current use of novel psychoactive substances (NPS) in high-risk populations by analyzing biological sample extracts discarded from a partnering forensic toxicology reference laboratory.


NPS detection, identification, and characterization were the primary means of producing increased awareness and knowledge of the nationwide use of NPS. A liquid chromatography quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LC-QTOF-MS) assay was developed, validated, and used for forensic toxicology analytical testing. Resulting data were compared against an extensive in-house library database that contained just over 800 analytes. The LC-QTOF-MS assay was applied to the re-analysis of biological sample extracts to identify emergent NPS, their metabolites, and trends in use patterns. A total of 3,643 biological sample extracts were analyzed, and 21 emerging NPS were detected through sample mining. Regarding trends, NPS opioid positivity declined over time during the research period; however, fentanyl positivity persisted. As indicated in this research, NPS continue to appear in forensic toxicology casework, and novel assays for their detection and characterization are critical to monitoring emerging drug trends and recreational drug use. LC-QTOF-MS was a vital component for discovering and characterizing emerging NPS and their metabolites. Analytical chemists must continue research on NPS to broaden understanding of synthetic drugs and their public health and safety impacts. 166 figures, 43 tables, 160-item bibliography, and appended LC-QTOF-MS library database

Date Published: December 1, 2019