The synthetic cathinones mephedrone (4-MMC) and 4-methylethcathinone (4-MEC) are two designer drugs that represent the rise and fall effect of this drug category within the stimulants market and are still available in several countries around the world. As a result, the qualitative and quantitative determination of ‘legal highs’, and their mixtures, are of great interest. This work explores for the first time the spectroelectrochemical response of these substances by coupling cyclic voltammetry (CV) with Raman spectroscopy in a portable instrument.
It was found that the stimulants exhibit a voltammetric response on a gold screen-printed electrode while the surface is simultaneously electro-activated to achieve a periodic surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) substrate with high reproducibility. The proposed method enables a rapid and reliable determination in which both substances can be selectively analyzed through the oxidation waves of the molecules and the characteristic bands of the electrochemical SERS (EC-SERS) spectra. The feasibility and applicability of the method were assessed in simulated seized drug samples and spiked synthetic urine. This time-resolved spectroelectrochemical technique provides a cost-effective and user-friendly tool for onsite screening of synthetic stimulants in matrices with low concentration analytes for forensic applications. (Publisher abstract provided)