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Forensic Magzine, June 14, 2024: New Screening Method to Detect Drugs and Poisons Postmortem

The illicit drug market is constantly evolving. New drugs (called novel psychoactive substances, or NPS) are steadily emerging, evading detection and legal consequences. Between January 2018 and December 2023, the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education’s NPS Discovery identified more than 250 NPS in forensic samples tested from the United States, totaling more than 15,000 detections across forensic populations nationally.”

One way to better understand the evolving drug landscape is to analyze postmortem fluids and tissues. Forensic toxicology laboratories, at the request of a medical examiner or coroner office, routinely screen for prescription, illicit, and over-the-counter drugs. Unfortunately, many of these laboratories — which are often understaffed and underfunded — tend to have ever-growing backlogs. Postmortem laboratories need cost-effective methods to quickly test for numerous drugs. Many use a test called an ELISA to detect drugs of abuse. However, ELISA is not specific enough to detect many novel psychoactive substances, distinguish them from other common classes of controlled substances, or differentiate them from close analogues.

Dr. Diane Moore, a toxicologist for the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner, sought a method to provide more detail about substances found in postmortem blood and tissues and a higher degree of confidence in their identification. With NIJ funding, her department purchased instrumentation to perform liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) to improve their workflow and augment their current screening procedure using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS). more

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