Drug overdose deaths continue to rise in the United States. Timely data on the drug landscape is difficult to obtain due to a constantly changing drug supply, extensive backlogs, and limited geographical comparisons.
To capture the chemical makeup of the illicit drug landscape in near real-time, we are working with local, state, and federal partners on developing analytical methods and workflows that can provide quick, comprehensive, and actionable data. To do so, we are leveraging several types of analytical techniques capable of qualitative and/or quantitative analysis of trace drug residues.
This project is part of NIST’s ongoing effort to help efficiently and safely detect and identify synthetic opioids and other emerging substances of concern. If you have any questions, please contact RaDAR [at] nist.gov (RaDAR[at]nist[dot]gov)
The main goal of the RaDAR program is to help partners develop analytical methods and workflows that unlock actionable insights into the chemical makeup of the illicit drug landscape. This effort is a collaboration between the Surface and Trace Chemical Analysis Group (STCAG) at NIST and public health, law enforcement, forensic science, and customs agencies. Though a wide range of analytical tools are currently deployed, this project primarily focuses on mass spectrometry-based systems.
Current Analytical Workflow
Trace drug residue samples collected by partner agencies are sent to NIST for analysis. Samples are extracted, then analyzed by ambient ionization mass spectrometry (AI-MS) to screen for drugs, adulterants, and cutting agents. The results are returned within 48 hours to partner agencies. For a subset of samples, more comprehensive analysis is completed using chromatography-based mass spectrometry techniques to confirm the presence of newly identified compounds or to quantitate the relative proportions of compounds.
The results we provide to partners offer critical insights that are used to (1) educate people who use drugs and the broader community, (2) understand the influx of novel drugs or other emerging substances of concern (e.g., xylazine, nitazenes) into the drug supply, and (3) inform forensic laboratories about new substances that may be encountered in casework.
Publications related to the RaDAR program include:
RaDAR in the news:
Additional information on the methods and instrumentation used for this project are included below.
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