Jose Jimenez explains how the Raman device – the Rigaku ResQ CQL – successfully fulfils the need for fast identification of fentanyl, new psychoactive substances (NPS), and other synthetic opioids

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has not deterred the traffic and consumption of fentanyl and its derivatives, new psychoactive substances (NPS), and other synthetic opioids in the UK

NPS – known as ‘legal highs’ – are becoming increasingly easier than ever to buy, despite the national ban. They are now more potent and harder to track since traders are now using the dark web. Southern Scientific has introduced to the UK market a Raman device – the Rigaku ResQ CQL – which successfully answers to the need for fast identification of those drugs.

As for fentanyl and its derivatives, it is important not to forget that since 2008, when just a few cases were reported in the UK, deaths related to this synthetic opioid (primarily used as a pain reliever and considered to be 50 times more potent than heroin) show a significant and steady rise. Fentanyl’s potency means that even small doses can be deadly.

Raman identification
Law enforcement agencies use Raman identification technology as a well-proven and mature identification technique for the vast majority of narcotic substances. Since it does not tamper with the sample, there is no risk of destroying or invalidating evidence. Identification is achieved in seconds and without the need to open the plastic bag or glass container.

New threat substances
It is not only a question of the difficulties controlling the traffic of these substances, but also the number of different formulas. New psychoactive substances and other new narcotics are hitting the streets every day, making it increasingly difficult for law enforcement agencies to keep themselves up to date. It is essential to detect not only the wide range of well-known narcotics, but also these new designer variants.

For that reason, apart from the standard library of over 13,000 Raman-active chemicals (including explosives, chemical warfare agents (CWAs), precursors, hazardous chemicals, narcotics, cutting agents, pesticides, steroids and more), Rigaku has recently increased a relevant number of new entries into the narcotics database of the ResQ CQL. In addition, users have the possibility to upgrade, transfer, and translate new entries and to create their own new databases.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned NPS, fentanyl and its derivatives, and other opioids are challenging samples. They are often found in dirty street samples, mixed with a myriad other substances that can interfere or mask the active ingredient, or commonly found in very low amounts.

In addition, opioids and other narcotics naturally create strong spectral interference themselves in the form of fluorescence: the main enemy of Raman identification for teams deployed on-site.

Blinded by the light
Think about the light of a star. It is billions of times brighter than the reflected light from a planet nearby. That is why it is so difficult to see a planet crossing its path. The star light causes a glare that washes the planet out of sight.

Similarly, challenging samples tend to create very intense fluorescence interference that blinds their ‘Raman light.’ The fluorescence interference in Raman spectroscopy may result from the compound analysed or from fluorescent impurities in the sample, which normally present bright colours.

It is a big barrier for rapid and precise analysis. Dealing with fluorescence interference is one of the key challenges for an efficient application of Raman spectroscopy in field applications.

The longer the device’s laser wavelength (measured in nanometres – nm), the better its ability to ‘wash out’ the fluorescence from the measurement. And this is not a lineal increase!

A vast majority of these narcotics (and also explosives, among many other types) are highly fluorescent, which makes the choice of the laser device critical for a successful identification. It has been proven that a 1064-nm laser works substantially better than 785- or 810-nm laser devices.

Studies on Rigaku’s Raman 1064-nm laser devices for the identification and classification of NPS have been performed and successfully shown their superior capabilities of distinguishing fentanyl, cathinone, and synthetic cannabinoid analogues and other derivatives. These studies also show that Rigaku’s 1064-nm wavelength laser has significant advantages for identifying NPS samples, overcoming the intense fluorescence induced when using 785 and 810-nm lasers.

The Rigaku ResQ CQL
Introducing the Rigaku ResQ CQL – a new tactical design of Rigaku’s award-winning platform for narcotics and explosives identification  that perfectly responds to the emerging threats that are rapidly increasing in the UK and other countries.

It combines an effective set of new advantages:

  • Laser excitation of 1064 nm – by utilising 1064-nm laser excitation, the Rigaku ResQ CQL overcomes fluorescence interference common to samples that are coloured or in coloured packaging.
  • Analysis of non-visible substances – QuickDetect Mode provides automated colorimetrics for trace or non-visible amounts of a substance. Using the compatible QuickDetect pouches and the CQL device camera, it eliminates the human error and subjectivity of traditional colour reagent kits. Thus, the ResQ CQL is the first field-ready Raman tool to provide both bulk and trace analysis for hazardous chemicals, narcotics, explosives, and CWAs in seconds.
  • New and simplified user interface – operate via button or touchscreen with intuitive navigation menus.
  • On-board camera – allows users to create richer event reports, including photos of the sample, the environment where it was found, or the type of container. This is vital information for a proper forensic analysis after the event, the sample traceability, and it also saves time for the teams on-site.
  • New narcotics database – the updated Narcotics library makes this device ideal for law enforcement agencies in the UK who face new and emerging drug formuations.

In conclusion, when facing the current narcotics situation in the UK, the Rigaku ResQ CQL and its 1064-nm laser for Raman identification technology offers benefits over conventional Raman spectrometers to law enforcement users, namely the elimination of fluorescent interference in measurements.

With the 1064-nm benefit, the ResQ CQL can analyse coloured materials through clear and coloured packaging (including glassware and plastic), a feature which offers particular benefits to narcotics applications where coloured pills are often seen. Analysis through packaging minimises operator exposure to substances. Additionally, it does not require consumables or factory calibration which ensures a low through-life cost.

 Jose Jimenez is the CBRN Market Specialist for Southern Scientific. He has been a CBRNE and chemical analysis international market professional for more than 15 years.

 Southern Scientific Ltd is part of the LabLogic Group. It supplies personal, handheld, portable, mobile, and fixed detection, identification, and monitoring solutions for CBRNE applications with more than 30 years’ experience, and is the official distributor of Rigaku Analytical Devices in the UK.

Rigaku Analytical Devices based in Wilmington, MA, US since 2011 is a pioneer in hand-held 1064-nm Raman and LIBS-based technology for materials analysis. With thousands of units in use globally, its portfolio offers the most versatile solution for use in safety and security against chemical threats, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and in the recycling and quality control of metal alloys.

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The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has not deterred the traffic and consumption of fentanyl and its derivatives, new psychoactive substances (NPS), and other synthetic opioids in the UK.

©Rigaku Analytical Devices