The International Association of Forensic Toxicologists (TIAFT) (link to meeting) recently concluded their annual conference in the beautiful Florence, Italy. Inaugural events are no disappointment for ~700 forensic toxicology enthusiasts, with an opening ceremony where NIDA’s Marilyn Huestis presented the role of various drug compounds in the renaissance era that may have laid foundation to today’s modern toxicology studies. This year’s conference was full of excellent talks from all over the world and workshops from various industry leaders. Some hot topics included designer drugs, their toxicological effect, identification and confirmation, and the use of new matrices for toxicological studies such as hair, saliva and breath.
Designer Drugs: The New Dilemma
Designer drugs are modified illegal drugs of abuse substances that are more potent than the original drug and are legal. These designer drugs are created by modifying functional side groups to make them more hydrophilic and thus have more impact when ingested.
Every day new designer drugs enter the market, posing huge problems to law enforcement and toxicology studies. These designer drugs first appeared in early 2000 in Europe, and in the later part of the decade, the concept spread like wildfire, leading to many deaths and hospitalizations. The scarier part of this designer drug take-over is its use among the younger generation, due to its low cost and easy access on the internet. In 2012, The American Poison Control Centers (link to AAPCC) received more than 2,500 calls from victims between the ages of 20-29 who had been exposed to synthetic drugs.
Hair: The New Perfect Matrix for Toxicological Studies
Another interesting development in the world of toxicology is to figure out the right matrix to determine the toxicological effects of various drugs of abuse. Urine, blood, tissues, and organs have been the major matrices used in various analytical studies. Hair has now emerged as a new perfect matrix for different types of toxicological studies. This is mainly due to the fact that hair can help us understand the effect of drug ingestion not only in recent hours, but also in recent months, while urine and blood are only capable of divulging the effect of drug ingestion in the last few hours. In addition, the collection method for hair is non-invasive. The challenge is finding the right analytical tool to determine low levels of drugs and metabolites, and for this we need sensitive instrumentation. High resolution mass spectrometry (link to product page) can detect and quantify drugs at the picogram level.
TIAFT was a great venue for many forensic labs to present their new findings on various drugs of abuse using hair. This included method development using different sample preparation methods, as well as confirmation studies including triple quad mass spectrometry (link to product page) and high resolution accurate mass spectrometry (link to product page).
Drugged Driving: The Impact of Marijuana Legalization
With four states legalizing marijuana and more contemplating doing so, states continue to evaluate their “detectable amount” laws. In the U.S., laws vary by state. For example, zero tolerance is the law of the land in states such as Wisconsin. Forensic toxicologists detect and quantify the metabolites in blood samples, which can be detectable up to 48 hours after use. Drug abuse analysts are faced with new challenges: to better understand the typical metabolic rate for THC, to choose unique markers to eliminate the possibility of passive inhalation, and to provide markers of recent cannabis smoking.
In order to legalize the new psychoactive substances, law enforcement and toxicology labs need to work together to identify the chemical structures of the substances and determine their toxic effects. Care needs to be taken throughout the forensic toxicology workflow (link to forensic workflow) in order to have complete confidence in results and findings. The challenge, as noted in a recent publication by Marilyn Heustis Ph.D., NIDA Principal Investigator (link to Heustis publication), is to identify the chemical structures quickly and find their metabolites, which could give a good indication of the time and amount of ingestion using streamlined workflow, including microflow reversed phase LC separation followed by high resolution mass spectrometry analysis.
For more information on forensic toxicology topics, visit the useful resources below.