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Complex Drug Mixtures Analysis, Using Open-Source Search Software and Library Building Tool

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2022

Forensic scientists receive over a million requests for seized drug analysis in the United States each year, and the number is steadily climbing. The proliferation of novel psychoactive substances in recent years, including synthetic opioids and cannabinoids, has contributed to these rising numbers. As a result, researchers are searching for improved ways to evaluate their drug samples for more swift evidence processing. Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry (DART-MS) can determine sample composition from solid, liquid, or gaseous compounds nearly instantaneously, and has garnered recognition as a suitable technique for the rapid analysis of emerging drugs. One drawback to the forensic application of DART-MS has been the difficulty associated with data processing and interpretation of complex drug mixtures. This article discusses how a research team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, supported by the National Institute of Justice, created an automated data evaluation process, developing and releasing a DART-MS mixture interpretation software program that is free, flexible, vendor agnostic, and open-source. The researchers sought to develop a suite of tools to analyze complex DART-MS spectra rapidly and reliably, easily create or amend spectral databases, identify unknown substances, and generate reports using their Data Interpretation Tool software.