Illegal drug smuggling has long been a global concern and has posed a serious threat to human health. Recently, the sharp increase of fentanyl overdose deaths has been declared a national crisis in the North American.
A group led by Prof. LI Haiyang from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with Yunnan Police Officer Academy, and Drug analysis and Drug Control Technology Key Laboratory of the Ministry of Public Security, developed a rapid screening of trace volatile and nonvolatile illegal drugs by miniature ion trap mass spectrometry, realizing the rapid on-site detection of illegal drugs in mixtures and the minimum detectable quantity reach to 50 picograms for fentanyl. The study was published in Anal. Chem..
The group has been working on the rapid detection of illegal drugs. Acetone assisted photoionization was introduced and a temperature-resolved thermal desorption sampling strategy was developed to distinguish illegal drug mixtures in 10 minutes, 27 kinds of illegal drugs has been detected as well.
However, the illegal drugs usually have a distinct boiling point, and nonvolatile illegal drugs has a low detection sensitivity while the volatile illegal drugs have a short detection period. In order to faster identification the illegal drug mixtures with big difference of boiling point, flash-thermal-desorption was used to thermal desorb the sample and its focal temperature can reach to 290 ℃ in 2.5 seconds which could achieve more than 60 times improvement in sensitivity compared with the previously reported miniature ion trap for nonvolatile drugs.
The synchronized purging and ion injection with DAPI could accurately control the time interval along with the desorption, gas purging, ionization and ion injection, and the sample utilization ratio increased more than 5 times. ten kinds of mixing drugs with boiling point difference of 300 ℃ could be simultaneously identified within 3 seconds.
Left: Photo of the mass spectrometer applied at a frontier inspection station in Yunnan province. Right: Schematic diagram of the synchronized flash-thermal-desorption purging and ion injection and the on-site identification of fentanyl capsule. (Image by WANG Weimin)
During the development process, the mass spectrometer has been used in multiple Frontier Inspection Stations in Yunnan provinces, such as Mukang Frontier Inspetion Station in Dehong Autonomous Prefecture, Qinglongchang Frontier Inspection Station in Yuxi city, and so on. 37 kinds of illegal drugs’s mass spectrum has been added into the identification’s database and valuable experience was gained for the study of ion trap mass spectrometry in drug detection.
The above research was supported by the national natural science foundation of China. At the same time, it is also one of the articles dedecated for the 70th anniversary of DICP. (Text by Weimin Wang)