shutterstock_415031728Illicit drug use and addiction has become an unprecedented public health crisis. According to the CDC, more than 190 people die every day in the United States after overdosing on drugs, with two-thirds of those deaths involving prescription pain killers, illegal opioids, and new designer drugs. The number of typically abused drugs has grown both in terms of variety or drug classes, as well as increased number of closely related analogues or isomers. With this significant increase in drug misuse and overdose from potentially many illicit drugs, forensic toxicology labs need a way to conduct fast, reliable drug analysis.

Analyzing a large test menu of drugs of abuse presents several challenges for analytical laboratories. Forensic toxicologists routinely screen for a wide variety of drugs in biological matrices which require sample preparation to minimize signal interference. High potency drugs such as fentanyl may only show up in very low concentrations requiring optimal quantitation. Closely related drug isomers may require better separation methods to distinguish between them. Identifying and quantifying so many drugs may take a lot of time and multiple methods.

To help forensic labs on the front lines of the drug epidemic, Thermo Fisher Scientific offers a line of triple-stage quadrupole mass spectrometers (MS/MS) built on a foundation of shared, state-of-the-art hardware and software components. Innovations such as the Thermo Scientific™ Active Ion Management Plus (AIM+) technology includes enhanced components to maximize sensitivity and optimize precision, selectivity, and reproducibility for confidently identifying and quantifying targeted drugs and their isomers.

The Thermo Scientific™ TSQ Quantis™ triple-stage quadrupole mass spectrometer is part of the AIM+ family of MS/MS, along with the Thermo Scientific™ TSQ Altis™ MS and the Thermo Scientific™ TSQ Fortis™. A mid-range MS/MS, the Quantis MS performs admirably against other MS/MS in its class for workhorse productivity, enabling robust, confident quantitation with the sensitivity required to meet routine forensic toxicology workflow needs. In addition, the Quantis incorporates innovative approaches to increase reliability and reduce maintenance, enabling forensic labs to maximize their potential while addressing their cost-per-sample requirements day in and day out.

In a study to investigate feasibility and develop a reliable and robust application workflow for analyzing and quantifying more than 53 drugs of abuse and their isomers in urine, the Quantis was able to identify the drugs in less than 90 seconds, and demonstrate the advantages of its AIM+ technology.

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Since opiate isomers have the same molecular mass (precursor m/z) and can generate similar product ions, it’s necessary to separate these compounds chromatographically. Four opiate isomers with a molecular weight of 286 were easily separated by the Thermo Scientific™ Vanquish™ Horizon UHPLC system. Adding to the reliability of the data, multiple transitions (multiple SRMs) were identified for individual isomers. The high acquisition speed of the Quantis allowed it to resolve and quantify these compounds accurately. Segmented hyperbolic-quadrupoles provide consistent mass separation, increase scan speed and enable high resolution SRM measurement (H-SRM) for sufficiently monitoring multiple transitions.

In addition to developing LC-MS/MS methods with short run times to ensure high productivity, interference from biological matrices (urine in this study) and complications of overlapping analytes require methods with high sensitivity. Although the TSQ Quantis instrument is a mid-range triple quadrupole MS, it addressed the sensitivity demands of all analytes with remarkable ease.

For example, 6-MAM is the primary metabolite of heroin and a marker for its use. Multiple injections of 6-MAM in urine, diluted by 2-fold and analyzing only 2 microliters (2uL), show robust detection from low sample volume and low concentrations of analyte. Advanced ion transfer tube, neutral blocker, and optics in the Quantis are designed for minimizing interference and maximizing sample ion transmission for optimal detection efficiency.

With the growing demands of increasing throughput and high sensitivity in forensic toxicology, liquid chromatography with the AIM+ family of triple quadrupole mass spectrometers offers several advantages in performing robust, reproducible, fast, and sensitive quantitation of targeted drugs of abuse. The outstanding speed and sensitivity of the TSQ Quantis MS/MS allows for confident routine quantitation of multiple drugs and their metabolites. However, it’s not just the speed and sensitivity of the Quantis that differentiates it from other MS/MS in its class, but its reliable selectivity for resolving poor or overlapping signals from challenging isomers and analytes that sets it apart.


For Forensic Use Only.