Comprehensive forensic toxicological analysis of designer drugs

Madeline Jean Swortwood, Florida International University


New designer drugs are constantly emerging onto the illicit drug market and it is often difficult to validate and maintaincomprehensive analytical methods for accurate detection of these compounds. Generally, toxicology laboratories utilize a screening method, such as immunoassay, for the presumptive identification of drugs of abuse. When a positive result occurs, confirmatory methods, such as gas chromatography (GC) or liquid chromatography (LC) coupled with mass spectrometry (MS), are required for more sensitive and specific analyses. In recent years, the need to study the activities of these compounds in screening assays as well as to develop confirmatory techniques to detect them in biological specimens has been recognized. Severe intoxications and fatalities have been encountered with emerging designer drugs, presenting analytical challenges for detection and identification of such novel compounds. The first major task of this research was to evaluate the performance of commercially available immunoassays to determine if designer drugs were cross-reactive. The second major task was to develop and validate a confirmatory method, using LC-MS, to identify and quantify these designer drugs in biological specimens. Cross-reactivity towards the cathinone derivatives was found to be minimal. Several other phenethylamines demonstrated cross-reactivity at low concentrations, but results were consistent with those published by the assay manufacturer or as reported in the literature. Current immunoassay-based screening methods may not be ideal for presumptively identifying most designer drugs, including the "bath salts." For this reason, an LC-MS based confirmatory method was developed for 32 compounds, including eight cathinone derivatives, with limits of quantification in the range of 1-10 ng/mL. The method was fully validated for selectivity, matrix effects, stability, recovery, precision, and accuracy. In order to compare the screening and confirmatory techniques, several human specimens were analyzed to demonstrate the importance of using a specific analytical method, such as LC-MS, to detect designer drugs in serum as immunoassays lack cross-reactivity with the novel compounds. Overall, minimal cross-reactivity was observed, highlighting the conclusion that these presumptive screens cannot detect many of the designer drugs and that a confirmatory technique, such as the LC-MS, is required for the comprehensive forensic toxicological analysis of designer drugs.

Subject Area

Toxicology|Surgery|Analytical chemistry

Recommended Citation

Swortwood, Madeline Jean, "Comprehensive forensic toxicological analysis of designer drugs" (2013). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3608790.