Lab Matters Winter 2017 | Page 26

environmental health
Lead Chemist Brandon Jones performs analysis of an unknown drug material at DC DFS PHL

Washington , DC Expands Testing for Synthetic Opioids

by Luke C . Short , PhD , manager , chemistry , Washington , DC Department of Forensic Sciences Public Health Laboratory Division ; Brandon Jones , lead chemist ; Washington , DC Department of Forensic Sciences Public Health Laboratory Division ; and Anthony Tran , DrPH , MPH , D ( ABMM ), director , Washington , DC Department of Forensic Sciences Public Health Laboratory Division

The sale and distribution of illegal , controlled dangerous substances ( CDS ) is nothing new — heroin , cocaine and other CDS have long plagued society . What is new , however , is the alarming trend of emerging synthetic drugs . Inexpensive , easy to synthesize and available from chemical markets outside of the US , synthetic drugs represent an evolving threat to public health . For Washington , DC , the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported in May 2016 that over the 2014 to 2016 period , while overall opioid overdoses have slightly declined ( 120 to 117 per year ), the number of synthetic opioid overdoses has significantly increased ( e . g ., from 11 to 24 for fentanyl ).

As emerging synthetic drugs appear on the streets , DC DFS PHL intends to update the database and methods to ensure coverage of new substances .
Synthetic drugs are often too new to be classified as illegal , as well as too new to be picked up on health screens from patients after a suspected overdose . A public health need at the local level exists for a group that sits in both communities , first addressing the identification and classification of new drugs , and subsequently funneling this information to other state and federal partners .
In Washington , DC , successful prosecution of new synthetic drugs along with effective current toxicological screens in 2016 led the Washington , DC Department of Forensic Science ( DC DFS ) Public Health Laboratory Division ( PHL ) to create the Forensic Chemistry Unit ( FCU ) to develop new drug detection techniques and work closely with the laboratory to implement new testing methods for clinical specimens . FCU was formed within the DC DFS Biomonitoring and Analytical Chemistry Unit ( BACU ), which partners with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) as a Laboratory Response Network-Chemical ( LRN-C ) Level 2 Laboratory . As a member of LRN-C , BACU is partially funded by CDC ’ s Public Health Emergency Preparedness ( PHEP ) Cooperative Agreement . By having the established chemical emergency response capacity from LRN-C , DC DFS was able to leverage the knowledge base and personnel of BACU to establish and provide scientific support to the new FCU .
Support of New Drug Classification
FCU has worked with the Washington , DC Office of the Attorney General ( OAG ) to create the “ Synthetics Abatement and Full Enforcement Drug Control Emergency Amendment Act of 2015 ” (“ SAFE DC Emergency Act ”), enacted into law on April 5 , 2016 . Prior to this bill , the DC Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 1981 listed specific chemicals as controlled substances , not classes of chemicals , leaving a window for new synthetic drugs to avoid classification under the law . SAFE DC responds to this by grouping two categories of synthetic drugs , synthetic cannabimimetic agents and synthetic cathinones , thereby providing a basis to classify the emerging synthetic drugs as controlled substances under DC Law .
Analytical Testing Example – Fentanyl , A Synthetic Opioid
Using an acetonitrile extraction and centrifugation filtration method developed at FCU , synthetic cannabimimetic agents have a consistent limit of detection ( LOD ) in the low micrograms per milliliter of organic extract . Acetonitrile was found to also effectively extract synthetic opioids from matrix and identify both synthetic opioid and other controlled dangerous substances ( CDS ) present . Analysis of fentanyl ( see Figure 1 ) was consistent to values reported by the Scientific Working Group for the Analysis of Seized Drugs ( SWGDRUG ).
During the gas chromatography mass spectrometry ( GC-MS ) performance specification evaluation of fentanyl using the FCU CDS method , a matrixmatched LOD ( 20 at 25μg / mL ) was found to be 4.3μg / mL , almost two orders of magnitude lower concentration than reference test standards ( Cayman
LAB MATTERS Winter 2017
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