Each year regulatory agencies re-visit and modify forensic guidance documents to improve quality and stay ahead of technology advancements, including new synthetic drugs of abuse entrants. Whether you are performing forensic crime casework, evaluating the true performance of an athlete, or assessing compliance to workplace policy, you may find the need to deploy new analytical technology and optimize your current procedures to keep ahead of future changes.
One thing is for sure regardless of your area of practice focus: new synthetic drug compounds, lower detection limits, legalization and longer sample retention more than ever are increasing the demands on forensic toxicologists and the need for adding future-proof solutions.
In With OASC, Out With SWG
Many would agree that forensic best practices in the US should be standardized. In 2009, the NRC Strengthening Forensic Sciences in the US report emphasized this fact. For decades, the US has relied on technical working groups (TWGs) and scientific working groups (SWGs) to develop guidance and standards documents. However, working groups like SWGDRUG and SWGTOX haven’t been as effective as hoped. Meetings and funding were irregular and membership standards were inconsistent. SWG products weren’t mandated or enforceable; some were too general, with no impact studies, etc.
National Institutes Standards Technology (NIST) is working with the forensic science community to establish the new Organization for Scientific Area Committees (OSAC). OSAC is part of an initiative by NIST and the Department of Justice to strengthen forensic science in the United States. The organization is a collaborative body of more than 500 forensic science practitioners and other experts who represent local, state, and federal agencies, academia, and industry. NIST has established OSAC to support the development and promulgation of forensic science consensus documentary standards and guidelines, and to ensure that a sufficient scientific basis exists for each discipline.
OSAC is already taking over SWGTOX activities. They will coordinate development of standards and guidelines for the forensic science community to improve quality and consistency of work in the forensic science community. Some key future focus areas with the expansion of technology will be Mass Spectrometry Data Evaluation and Minimum testing limits for Forensic Toxicology casework.
In addition to continuing to add compounds to the WADA Prohibited Substance list for 2016 and retaining athlete samples for up to ten years, effective September 1, 2015, WADA released TD2015IDCR Minimum criteria for chromatographic-mass spectrometric confirmation to identify analytes for doping control purposes.
The ability of a method to identify an analyte is a function of the entire procedure: sample preparation, chromatographic separation, mass analysis and data assessment. Any description of the method for purposes of documentation should include all parts of the method. The appropriate analytical characteristics shall be documented for the entire identification method and should be sufficiently proven as being fit-for-purpose through proper method validation. Laboratories shall follow the identification criteria described in this Technical Document in their analytical protocols, including differentiation between isomers of the same substance.
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New Gold Standard for Workplace Compliance Testing?
Workplace drug testing has required confirmation of initial drug tests since the beginning of federally-regulated and military drug testing programs. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) has been the 'gold standard' for this testing, with well-developed procedures and criteria for confirmation of presumptive positive results.
In October 2010, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) noted it would allow the use of other chromatography-based mass spectrometry techniques for confirmation, such as LC-MS triple quad based technology high confidence identification and quantitation. At the annual 2015 meeting for the Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT), several talks referenced the latest news, including the acceptable use of alternate methodologies for initial drug testing. This opens the possibility to solely using non-immunoassay techniques if labs can achieve cost structures to make this attractive.