Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug is similar to morphine but highly potent than it. Fentanyl is also one of the most dangerous and illicit drugs in the world.  

It is used in surgical procedures as well as for the management of pain in certain disease states, but its abuse has overshadowed the medical use of this drug. This is also one of the most abused drugs, whose detection is quite difficult as well as time consuming.

But now, according to the team of scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the detection and analysis of fentanyl will be more easier.

These scientists have developed a new technique to detect and analyze fentanyl in human blood and urine samples, which will be benefiting the fields of medicine as well as forensic chemistry and toxicology.

The development of this new technique has been discussed in a paper recently published in the San Francisco-based Public Library of Science (PLOS) One online journal. Carlos Valdez, is a synthetic chemist at LLNL as well as the lead author of this paper.

Briefing about the technique, he said that the new method will be allowing a scientist to not only detect intact fentanyl in biological tissues, but it will also provide a way to confirm its presence in the sample by chemically modifying the opioid.

The scientists have developed the method to analyze and confirm the presence of fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl (a related analog compound with a similar chemical structure) in blood and urine at low levels that can still cause overdoses in people.

Acetyl fentanyl is also a synthetic opioid that has been identified in many overdose deaths in United States.

The scientists, in their experiment laced the blood and urine samples with human-overdose levels of both the drugs. Then the drugs were extracted from the biological samples through organic solvent.

This extract was treated with a chemical reagent named as 2,2,2-trichloroethoxycarbonyl chloride or troc chloride in short. This reagent when reacts with the drug, the reaction breaks the drug into two predictable products from the opioid-2-chloroethyl benzene and troc-norfentanyl.

The detection of these two obtained products is very easy from the standard forensic equipments.

The strength of the technique is that it can be used to identify any type of fentanyl-related substance, even the unknown ones, that has been absorbed into the body.

The present technologies in use are highly time consuming as well as multiple analyses are required to identify unknown fentanyl-related substances and often have limited success.

According to Valdez, the new technology provides the advantage of accelerating the analysis process by which scientists and medical personnel can clearly and more confidently identify unknown fentanyl substances.

It has been estimated that other than blood and urine, the new technique will be applicable on biological tissues, including liver, kidney, and heart tissue.

Along with Valdez, the research has been conducted by all researchers in the Lab’s Forensic Science Center, that include the analytical chemists, biologists and analytical chemists. 

Categories: Toxicology


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