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Stability of Synthetic Cathinones in Urine

NCJ Number
Journal of Analytical Toxicology Journal of Analytical Toxicology Journal of Analytical Toxicology Volume: 42 Issue: 2 Dated: March 2018 Pages: 77-87
Date Published
March 2018
11 pages

This study assessed the concentration, pH, temperature and analyte-dependent effects on cathinone stability in preserved human urine.


A total of 22 synthetic cathinones were evaluated at 100 ng/mL and 1,000 ng/mL in pH 4 and pH 8 urine over 6 months. Specimens were stored at −20 degrees C, 4 degrees C, 20 degrees C and 32 degrees C. The stability of synthetic cathinones was highly dependent on urine pH and storage temperature. Cathinones were considerably more stable in acidic urine (pH 4) at low temperature. In alkaline urine (pH 8) at 32 degrees C, significant losses (>20%) were observed within hours for the majority of drugs. In contrast, all drugs were stable in frozen and refrigerated urine at pH 4 for the duration of the study. These results highlight the importance of sample storage and the potential for pre-analytical changes in concentration during routine shipping and handling of specimens. Significant structural influence was also observed. Cathinones bearing a tertiary amine (pyrrolidine group) were significantly more stable than their secondary amine counterparts. The methylenedioxy group also exerted a significant stabilizing effect on both the tertiary and secondary amines. In the absence of the methylenedioxy group, no significant differences in stability were observed between the unsubstituted and ring substituted secondary amines. Half-lives at ambient temperature in pH 8 urine ranged from 9 h (3-fluoromethcathinone) to 4.3 months (methylenedioxypyrovalerone and 3,4-methylenedioxy-a-pyrrolidinobutiophenone), demonstrating the importance of analyte dependence, and the dual stabilizing effect of both the pyrollidine and methylenedioxy groups. Biological evidence may be subjected to a variety of environmental conditions prior to, and during transport to the forensic laboratory. These findings demonstrate the inherent instability of certain cathinone species in biological evidence under some conditions. Moreover, this study highlights the need for quantitative drug findings in toxicological investigations to be interpreted cautiously, and within the context of specimen storage and integrity. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: March 1, 2018