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Detection of Trace Drugs of Abuse in Baby Formula using Solid Phase Extraction Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry (SPE-DART-MS)



Laura M. Watt, Edward Sisco


The intentional or unintentional adulteration of baby formula with drugs of abuse is one of the many increasingly complex samples forensic chemists may have to analyze. This sample type presents a challenge because of a complex matrix that can mask the detection of trace drug residues. To enable screening of baby formula for trace levels of drugs the use of solid phase microextraction (SPME) coupled with direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (DART-MS) was investigated. A suite of five drugs were used as adulterants and spiked into baby formula. Samples were then extracted using SPME fibers which were analyzed by DART-MS. Development of a proof-of-concept method was completed by investigating the effects of the DART gas stream temperature and the linear speed of the sample holder. Optimal values of 350 °C and 0.2 mm/s were found. Once the method was established, representative responses and sensitivities for the five drugs were measured and found to be in the range of single ng/mL to hundreds ng/mL. Additional studies found that the presence of the baby formula matrix increased analyte signal (relative to methanolic solutions) by greater than 200 %. Comparison of the SPME-DART-MS method to a traditional DART-MS method for trace drug detection found at least a factor of 13 improvement in signal for the drugs investigated. This work demonstrates that SPME-DART-MS is a viable technique for the screening of complex matrices, such as baby formula, for trace drug residues and that development of a comprehensive method is warranted.
Journal of Forensic Sciences


SPE-DART-MS, Drug Analysis, DART-MS, Baby Formula


Watt, L. and Sisco, E. (2021), Detection of Trace Drugs of Abuse in Baby Formula using Solid Phase Extraction Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry (SPE-DART-MS), Journal of Forensic Sciences, [online],, (Accessed June 16, 2024)


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Created June 17, 2021, Updated October 14, 2021