Underequipped and inadequately staffed forensic laboratories around the United States are likely to miss the new class of synthetic drugs that are cropping up, mostly in China, said chemists at the American Chemical Society meeting in Denver, Colorado. The drugs, which are synthesized to mimic existing illegal substances while evading detection, represent a growing problem worldwide. Detecting them requires laboratories to have a pure sample for comparison using analytical techniques such as gas-column mass spectrometry (GCMS), but such samples are hard to come by. Another problem is that many forensic labs may be staffed by people without the proper training in analytical chemistry.
"If you're doing GCMS on a sample and it almost matches mephedrone, well maybe it's butylone [a psychedelic drug used in research]," said Robert Lantz from the Rocky Mountain Instrumental Laboratories at the meeting. "A good analytical chemist would be able to say 'yes, this is a slight variation' as opposed to a button pusher who would simply say 'it doesn't match anything in my library'." (Hat tip to Nature News)