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Toxicological Time Travel: Retrospective Datamining of Analytical Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry (TOFMS) Data for Evaluating the Rise and Fall of Novel Opioid and Fentanyl Analog Use in the United States

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2020
43 pages

With the intent of addressing the challenge of the timely identification of several new drugs and analogs of fentanyl that have emerged on the illicit drug market and contributed to many drug-related overdose fatalities, this project sought to data-mine raw electronic analytical data acquired by using Liquid Chromatography Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry (LCTOFMS) from postmortem and drug-related cases of driving under the influence (DUID) in an effort to achieve earlier and more timely identifications of new substances.


Based on the data, time-course trend plots, geographic distribution heat maps, and emerging opioids were presented in reports. These reports were produced every 3 months for distribution within the public health, criminal justice, and forensic science communities. This provides timely and updated information on opioid trends in the United States. Throughout 2018 and into 2019, this project was able to report within days of the close of each quarter that fentanyl positivity steadily increased while heroin positivity remained relatively stable. Combining seized drug and analytical toxicological intelligence data substantially reduced the lag time between new identifications of the drugs available on the street and their detection in toxicological (postmortem and DUID) cases. Resources should be regularly allocated to sustain this approach to monitoring U.S. drug markets.

Date Published: December 1, 2020