RSC School Seminar - Professor Gavin Reid (University of Melbourne)

Title: Large Scale Monitoring of Illicit Drug Use via Mass Spectrometry Based Trace Residue Analysis of Discarded Drug Packaging and Paraphernalia

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23 Mar 2023 | 12 - 1pm
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Professor Gavin Reid (University of Melbourne)
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RSC School Seminar - Gavin Reid 23.03.2023

Large Scale Monitoring of Illicit Drug Use via Mass Spectrometry Based Trace Residue Analysis of Discarded Drug Packaging and Paraphernalia


Due to their unknown origin, composition and lack of regulation, the use of illicit drug substances present significant risks of harm, including toxicity, overdose, and death. These risks may be exacerbated when a drug sample has an unknown quantity, is adulterated or substituted with other pharmacologically active compounds, or when present in poly-drug mixtures. Therefore, as part of establishing public health-based harm reduction and/or early warning monitoring systems for illicit drug use, there is a need for analytical technologies that enable the rapid and large-scale identification, characterization and quantitation of potentially harmful drugs and drug combinations that are present. In this presentation, I will describe the development and application of a strategy involving the use of Direct Analysis in Real Time (DART) coupled with mass spectrometry (MS), tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) (including novel UV-photodissociation MS/MS methods), and automated database analysis software, for the trace level identification, characterization and semi-quantitative analysis of a diverse range of illicit drugs and adulterant substances, including new psychoactive substances (NPS’s), complex poly-drug mixtures, and for the de novo identification and structural characterization of a previously unreported synthetic opioid drug, β-U10. Results from three large-scale pilot studies will be presented. The first involved the analysis of Discarded Drug Packaging Samples (DPS) (e.g., plastic reusable ziplock bags) collected at large public events including music / dance festivals between September 2019 – March 2020 in metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria, Australia, including analyses performed on-site and in ‘close to real time’ using a ‘transportable’ triple quadrupole MS instrument housed within a custom modified mobile analytical laboratory [West, et al. (2021) Am. Soc. Mass Spectrom. 32, 2604-2614.]. In the second and third pilot studies, >10,700 Discarded Drug Paraphernalia (DDP) (e.g., used syringes, plastic spoons and metal trays) and other DPS sourced once-weekly from established service providers in Melbourne were analyzed between August 2020 – February 2021 and between May – November 2022. From these later studies, 90% of samples tested positive for at least one of 30 illicit substances, in 231 different poly-drug combinations, including β-U10 that appeared for the first time anywhere in the world while Covid-19 lockdowns were in place [West et al. (2022) Drug Testing and Analysis. 14, 1576-1586.]. Finally, a novel method based on the number and weekly ‘Average Signal Intensity’ (ASI) values of identified substances is shown to be a valid proxy indicator for semi-quantitative monitoring of dynamic changes in the availability, relative purity and compositions of local illicit drug markets.


Buiding 136, Level 3, STB S1

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