U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Researchers Improve Accuracy by Combining Testing Methods for Emerging Recreational Drugs

Researchers conducted a systematic study of microcrystalline tests for emerging illicit drugs and then examined the infrared spectra of the microcrystals to create a database to mitigate subjectivity of the tests.
Date Published
April 8, 2018

Noting that recreational drug use has been transformed in recent years by an "extraordinary surge of psychoactive substances," researchers from West Chester University of Pennsylvania developed a drug testing process designed to assist forensic laboratories in more easily and accurately identifying a host of emerging recreational drugs. The researchers used an infrared microspectroscopy method for analyzing drug microcrystals that uses the infrared spectra to interpret the differences between crystals formed by closely related compounds.

The purpose of combining data from microcrystalline tests with infrared analysis was to better "understand the chemistry of the formed microcrystals and help fill the gaps in knowledge about microcrystalline tests," the researchers said.

The research team, led by forensic chemist Monica Joshi, chose 30 substances from five classes of psychoactive drugs, and each was studied using common reagents (a substance that causes a chemical reaction), and based on the reagent analysis, several were then studied with infrared spectroscopy. The combination of standard microcrystal tests, which rely on visual description of the crystals, with the infrared method showed that for forensic labs, "there is greater value in combination of the two techniques . . . than use of either of them alone."

One of the goals of the project was to establish an online reference library of the microcrystals studied for use by forensic investigators. A website, "Library of Microcrystalline Tests for Novel Psychoactive Substances," was created and includes photomicrographs and IR data for such tests for 30 novel psychoactive substances. The library can be found at: http://wcupa.edu/sciences-mathematics/chemistry/forensicResearch/

About This Article

The research described in this article was funded by NIJ award 2014-R2-CX-K008, awarded to West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

This article is based on the grantee report "A Systematic Evaluation of the Analysis of Drug Microcrystals Using Infrared Microspectroscopy" (pdf, 18 pages), by Monica Joshi (principal investigator), Sean Brady, and Matthew Quinn, West Chester University.

This research is part of a broader portfolio of toxicology projects managed by NIJ physical scientist Frances Scott, Ph.D. Find more information on NIJ's toxicology portfolio.

Date Published: April 8, 2018