Halting the "Opioidemic"
With a precipitous upswing in fatal opioid overdoses since 2013, law enforcement and first responders are too keenly aware of opioid abuse as an emerging drug trend. Just this January, the Utah Department of Health launched a new campaign to reduce opioid overdose deaths in an effort to “stop the opioidemic."
The initial surge in deaths involving opioids acutely coincided with the increased availability of illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a prescription synthetic opioid made with the intention to replace morphine as an analgesic. Commonly abused drugs, like heroin, have been found laced with fentanyl as a means to increase potency or to compensate for poor quality. Fentanyl and dozens of designer opioids closely related to fentanyl are exponentially more powerful than heroin or morphine and, thus, are increasingly abused as a preferred high. Moreover, the potent analog acetyl fentanyl has been sold illicitly by itself, unknown to the user, labeled as either heroin or oxycodone, leading to confusion in expected dosing. By 2015, a two-year spike of deaths involving acetyl fentanyl prompted the DEA to designate it as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act. A similar story can be told for the abuse of carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer 10,000-fold more potent than morphine and 100-fold more potent than fentanyl.
The DEA issued a nationwide warning in September 2016 regarding carfentanil’s health and safety risks. That same month, U-47700, a novel synthetic opioid commonly referred to as “pink,” was placed on emergency Schedule I status after 46 confirmed fatalities were reported. Just four months prior, AH 7921 was officially granted Schedule I status. 2016 also marked the year that Canada outlawed MT-45 and W-18, as well as many of its analogs. Last month, China’s National Narcotics Control Commission announced it would schedule controls for carfentanil, furanyl fentanyl, valeryl fentanyl, and acrylfentanyl, affirming their shared commitment with the US DEA to counter illicit fentanyl.
To stem the trafficking of these substances, prosecuting their possession is paramount. However, the novelty and speed at which new designer opioids are emerging understandably makes them difficult to detect within the scope of routine testing methods. Reference materials are often not available, labs may need to develop advanced MS/MS techniques, and isomers might be challenging to differentiate if chromatographic separation capabilities are limited.
Cayman Chemical’s highly trained staff of chemists provide many resources to assist crime laboratories in this pursuit. We are dedicated to working with forensic and academic communities to identify emerging drugs of abuse and to quickly make authentic reference standards available from our ISO/IEC 17025:2005 and ISO Guide 34:2009 labs. We offer analytical support services including MS, NMR, GC-MS, HPLC, optical rotation, and HPLC purification. Cayman has also compiled a GC-MS Spectral Library containing 70EV EI MS data of hundreds of our emerging forensic drug standards. This library is provided as a free service to assist forensic labs in the identification of emerging drugs of abuse. Or, if you can’t find your unknown, you can submit your GC-MS data and any relevant information (suspected chemical class, matrix, solvent, GC parameters, etc.) to email@example.com and our scientists can help you solve it.