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Non-contact detection of fentanyl by a field-portable ion mobility spectrometer

NCJ Number
Drug Testing and Analysis
Date Published
May 2022

We demonstrate the development of a handheld IMS method for vapor detection of the target analyte for fentanyl.



Rapid on-site detection of fentanyl is paramount for the safety of law enforcement and other first responders. Due to the opioid epidemic, death by overdose is at an all-time high with fentanyl adulteration as the main assailant. Providing a user-friendly method for the presumptive detection of fentanyl will increase safety for first responders. Ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) provides a quick, affordable, and accurate method for detecting fentanyl. Currently, most methods for detecting fentanyl require manipulation or handling of the highly potent substance. A recent comparative analysis study on the headspace of fentanyl determined N-phenylpropanamide (NPPA) a target analyte for fentanyl enabling vapor detection. In the current project, an alarm was programmed into the handheld IMS device for the detection of NPPA. The system was able to accurately detect NPPA in samples of reference-grade fentanyl and diluted reference-grade fentanyl, as well as 3.67 mg of fentanyl from samples confiscated from the US border. Common adulterants and over-the-counter drugs were tested and resulted in a false alarm rate of 0 for substances sampled. The limit of detection was determined to be as low as 5 ng of NPPA. Overall, the development of this user-friendly, non-contact method has considerable promise for near real-time non-contact detection of fentanyl increasing safety of first responders. (Publisher Abstract)


Date Published: May 13, 2022