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Method for Evaluating Ion Mobility Spectrometers for Trace Detection of Fentanyl and Fentanyl- related Substances



Jennifer R. Verkouteren, Jeffrey Lawrence, R. Michael Verkouteren, Edward Sisco


Continuing efforts to combat the opioid crisis in the U.S. require technologies that can detect the presence of fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances for multiple applications, including law enforcement and border protection. Ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) technologies have a potential role here, and agencies will require robust methods to evaluate instrument performance for what are very challenging detection requirements. Fentanyl and 15 fentanyl- related substances were evaluated across a suite of IMS instruments, only one of which is currently configured for fentanyl detection, to determine baseline performance to guide the development of a method. Reproducibility in reduced mobilities (K0) of ± 0.01 cm2 V-1 s-1 for all 16 compounds indicate that product ion formation is the same across instrument platforms, and a strong correlation with molecular weight (R2=0.99) allows for the prediction of reduced mobility for newly encountered analogs. Based on the highest resolution instruments, detection windows of ± 0.003 cm2 V-1 s-1 allow for 6 out of 11 compounds to be uniquely identified while 5 are identified in pairs, with the 11 compounds representing those most frequently encountered in seized materials in the U.S. since 2015. The method proposes testing only 9 compounds because of the redundancies represented by the paired detections. Sensitivity measurements using ASTM E2677 for fentanyl and benzyl fentanyl indicate that all instruments are capable of nanogram detection levels, and that a common dosing level of 100 ng for all tested compounds is appropriate. Heroin, procaine, and quinine are proposed as confusants to add to fentanyl samples, based on the known presence of these materials in seized samples and baseline measurements of the effect on the detection of fentanyl. The method also includes a list of drugs that should be tested for false positives to ensure that authentic pharmaceutical compounds or other illicit drugs can


drug detection, fentanyl, IMS, ion mobility spectrometry, opioid


, J. , Lawrence, J. , , R. and Sisco, E. (2019), Method for Evaluating Ion Mobility Spectrometers for Trace Detection of Fentanyl and Fentanyl- related Substances, Analyst, [online],, (Accessed April 19, 2024)
Created November 7, 2019, Updated November 18, 2019