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Distinguishing Between Structurally Similar Designer Drugs Using an Advanced Method of Chromatography

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2018
1 page

This study determined that a new designer drug similar in structure to other drugs may be better separated by using ultra high performance supercritical fluid chromatography compared to more traditional chromatography methods.


Chemists in designer-drug factories, many that are located in China, routinely make slight molecular changes to existing illicit drugs, such as synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, in order to circumvent United States controlled substances laws. Separation of these new, structurally similar compounds is often done using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) or gas chromatography (GC). This summary report focuses on a project supported by the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ) that investigated the role of ultra-high performance supercritical fluid chromatography (UHPSFC) as a separation technique for forensic drug analysis. The project's experiments on synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones were designed to determine whether UHPSFC is a viable technique for forensic drug analysis, as well as whether it is particularly well suited for this compared to conventional techniques for the separation of closely related substances. The project determined that UHPSFC has the "potential to be superior" to other chromatography methods for the analysis of similar emerging drugs.

Date Published: February 1, 2018