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Quantifying New Illegal drugs in Postmortem Samples: Balancing Accuracy and Speed using LC/MS/MS.

Award Information

Award #
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $250,000)

Previous Coverdell awards received by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department (ME) enabled rapid and accurate screening procedures to detect and identify emerging designer drugs in postmortem death investigations. Even more crucial is the ability to measure or quantify these substances in postmortem blood and tissues. Drugs typically present at lower concentrations in overdose cases can be overlooked. Understanding drug toxicity and providing interpretation becomes difficult. Utilizing quantitative levels to determine toxicity and lethality would not only complete the testing for each case, but would also enhance the knowledge and understanding of the drug’s potency and threat to the community among Forensic Toxicology professionals, as very little research has been published on these substances to date.
Currently, the Laboratory has 289 open Medical Examiner cases involving designer drugs that require quantitation.
ME is requesting $250,000 to purchase an automated ultra-high pressure liquid chromatograph triple quadrupole mass spectrometer (LC/MS/MS). The LC/MS/MS instrument will provide a highly sensitive, accurate, and rapid method for quantifying emerging synthetic drugs in postmortem specimens, thereby providing invaluable research data and more importantly a reduction in the backlog of designer drug cases. The Laboratory will incorporate new LC/MS/MS technology into its routine testing procedures to achieve the following program objectives:
• Develop the necessary analytical methods capable of analyzing designer stimulants, hallucinogens, synthetic cannabinoids, fentanyl analogs, and synthetic opioids; to reduce 3 analysis time from fifteen minutes to five minutes per run while at the same time increasing sensitivity to measure concentrations below 1 ng/mL.
• Utilize new software with automated optimization programs, fast chromatography, and fast scanning speeds to expedite the creation of new quantification methods to reduce development and optimization time from seven days to three days per method and validation time from two weeks to one week.
• Reduce the overall run and processing time from twelve hours to five hours for quantifications.
• Reduce the turnaround time for these analyses from forty-five days to fourteen days.
The new LC/MS/MS system is equipped with automated software to simplify and streamline the development and MS/MS optimization of new methods. The ultra-high pressure liquid chromatograph reduces runtimes considerably while maintaining optimal separation of eluting compounds. Measurable project outcomes include: (1) increased number of new validated methods developed to quantify the new drugs; (2) improved throughput and reduced turnaround time for cases requiring quantitative analyses; and (3) decreased costs in chemicals and materials necessary to perform these tests over current methodology.

Date Created: August 15, 2016