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Drugs and Toxicology

pink, turquoise, yellow, & purple fentanyl pills

Rainbow Fentanyl

Credit: DEA

Goal: To both develop and facilitate the implementation of scientifically valid, robust measurement tools for the chemical characterization of drug evidence.


Why is NIST Involved in Drugs and Toxicology?

  • From April 2020 - April 2021 the CDC National Center for Health Statistics estimated 100,306 opioid overdoses
  • Drug cases are the most frequently requested type of analysis in forensic laboratory, accounting for over 700,000 submissions in 2020 according to NFLIS-DRUG
  • The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 legalized hemp with less than 0.3% THC content


What is NIST doing? 

Opioids and Emerging Threats – Tools and Resources  

  • Developing and validating new analytical tools for rapid analysis of seized drugs for accurate identification and decrease case backlogs
  • Creating and curating mass spectra libraries and data interpretation tools to assist in the identification of new and emerging drugs
  • Working with public health and public safety officials to create a metrology framework for near-real-time drug surveillance

Forensic Cannabis Analysis – An Integrated Measurement Service

  • Developing an objective image analysis method for interpreting colorimetric test results
  • Developing fundamental measurements to support breath-based detection of Cannabis Use  
  • Administering the Cannabis Quality Assurance Program (CannaQAP) to improve the comparability of the analytical measurements of cannabis and cannabis-derived products in forensic testing laboratories.
  • Developing of fit-for-purpose Cannabis analytical methods
  • Developing of community-suitable Hemp Reference Material ​

Associated Links


Maryam Abdur-Rahman

Forensic Science Internships at NIST – A look at Cannabis Compounds

Maryam Abdur-Rahman is a Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) intern conducting forensic science research with NIST’s Cannabis team in the Chemical Sciences Division. Her job has been to help the team chemically analyze different compounds in the plant. 




Black background. Photo of a penny. Next to the penny is a tiny amount of a white powder.
Photo illustration of 2 milligrams of fentanyl, a lethal dose in most people.
Credit: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Safe, Efficient, Reliable: New Science in the Fight Against Killer Drugs

“A new drug might appear, then three or six months later it’s gone, replaced by something new,” said NIST chemist and program manager Marcela Najarro. 



See More News and Updates



Opioids and Emerging Threats

Cannabis Breathalyzer

Created September 21, 2022, Updated November 16, 2022