Novel approach for measuring drugs in crime labs

 By Alexander Pan

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and at the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division are revamping their method of detecting drug levels at crime scenes. The instruments used to detect drug levels are Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry (DART-MS) and Liquid Chromatography Tandem Mass Spectrometry (LC/MS). Both of these instruments are very sensitive to drug levels and can detect down to billionths of a gram per square centimeter. Due to such strong specificity, it is important to prevent cross-contamination of drugs from the forensic lab to the evidence. At the research labs that test for drug levels, researchers swabbed areas in the lab, such as the bench, door handle, and balances, and discovered detectable residues of 13 different drugs, in measurements as small as a few nanograms, on these surfaces. Although these numbers are extremely small, it is important to note that such contamination exist if the threshold for detectable drug levels are increasing in specificity. These researchers from NIST outlined a protocol for other crime labs to follow in order to minimize and account for drug contamination in the lab. Furthermore, these researchers are partnering with the National Institute for Occupational Safety to assess potentially harmful effects of background drug levels on workplace safety. 


Edward Sisco, Marcela Najarro, Amber Burns. A Snapshot of Drug Background Levels on Surfaces in a Forensic Laboratory. Forensic Chemistry, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.forc.2018.09.001

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). (2018, September 26). New protocol for measuring background levels of drugs in crime labs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from