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What’s in the Bag? Analysis of Exterior Drug Packaging by TD-DART-MS to Predict the Contents



Edward R. Sisco, Elizabeth L. Robinson, Amber Burns, Rebecca Mead


The need for a safe and reliable presumptive test for law enforcement, first responders, and laboratory personnel is critical in the era of dangerous synthetic opioids and other novel psychoactive substances. Obtaining this type of information without handling bulk powder is one way of accomplishing this task. This work evaluates whether the trace residue on the exterior of drug packaging presents a potential source for presumptive testing. Utilizing a wipe-based approach, the packaging of nearly 200 real case exhibits were sampled and analyzed by thermal desorption direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (TD-DART-MS). While the residue on the officer packaging was a poor indicator of the contents (less than 50 % true detection), the drug packaging was shown to be excellent indicator of the contents (92 % true detection). Semi-quantitative analysis of the wipes, using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) showed that typical masses of residue on the exterior of the packaging ranged from single to tens of micrograms – enough for detection by a number of trace detection tools. These initial results demonstrate that wipe-based trace sampling approaches present a promising, reliable, and safe method for presumptive testing by law enforcement, first responders, or laboratory personnel.
Forensic Chemistry


Drug Analysis, Presumptive Testing, TD-DART-MS


Sisco, E. , Robinson, E. , Burns, A. and Mead, R. (2019), What’s in the Bag? Analysis of Exterior Drug Packaging by TD-DART-MS to Predict the Contents, Forensic Chemistry, [online], (Accessed June 25, 2024)


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Created September 13, 2019, Updated September 30, 2019