A bill to equip U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) personnel with scanning devices and other technology to detect synthetic opioids like fentanyl has been passed by the U.S. House and Senate and sent to President Trump for his signature.
The Senate version of the INTERDICT (International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology) Act, authored by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) passed on December 21. Companion legislation introduced by Representatives Niki Tsongas (MA-03) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-08) passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 412 to 3 in October.
The INTERDICT Act:
- Ensures that CBP will have additional portable chemical screening devices available at ports of entry and mail and express consignment facilities, and additional fixed chemical screening devices available in CBP laboratories
- Provides CBP with sufficient resources, personnel, and facilities – including scientists available during all operational hours – to interpret screening test results from the field
- Authorizes – based on CBP guidance – the appropriation of $15 million for hundreds of new screening devices, laboratory equipment, facilities, and personnel for support during all operational hours
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mexico is the primary source for illicit fentanyl trafficked into the United States, while distributors in China are the main source of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture the drug, along with the finished-product illicit fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.
One of the key, drug-identification tools identified by drug enforcement officials is a handheld narcotics analyzer called the TruNarc, made by Waltham, Mass.-based Thermo Fisher Scientific. TruNarc uses a technology called Raman spectroscopy, which provides a “fingerprint” to enable identification of molecules.
Thermo Scientific recently announced a TruNarc software update, adding the ability to detect 45 new substances, including 14 new forms of fentanyl. The device, which has been on the market since 2012, can identify nearly 250 illicit and abused narcotics in a single test.
TruNarc’s onboard library now includes acrylfentanyl, the pharmaceutical variants alfentanil and sufentanil, and the fentanyl precursors ANPP and NPP. TruNarc added fentanyl, dibutylone, W-18 and U-47700 to its library as part of earlier updates. Carfentanil, which was developed to tranquilize elephants and other large animals, is a fentanyl analog that is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.
Because of the rapid development of new substances by illicit drug labs, inconclusive results are a common occurrence when detecting new molecular analogs which are not in the TruNarc library, Arrand Johnston, a narcotics detective in Fort Wayne Ind., told Bloomberg Businessweek. When that happens, law enforcement agencies send reports to Thermo Fisher, which then tests the unknown substance for possible addition to its data base, says product manager Kerstin Barr.
TruNarc is not infallible in detecting substances. Researchers at Marshall University, evaluating the effectiveness of the Tru Narc device and one other handheld system, found that Tru Narc was able to to detect the target drug in 77 percent of cases. It produced consistent results in 84 percent of the cases, when results were compared to rescans done on days two and three of the study.
The Thermo Scientific TruNarc and Charlotte, N.C.-based Chemring Detection Systems‘ PGR-1064 were used to test more than 100 case samples by colorimetric and GC-MS analysis in the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Chemistry Unit.
Each case sample, which included opiates, stimulants, hallucinogens, and pharmaceutical tablets, was scanned in triplicate on three separate days in order to determine reproducibility. To evaluate each system, the results of
the Raman scans were compared to the laboratory results.
The PGR-1064 detected the target drug in 36 percent of the case samples and produced consistent results in
6 percent of the case samples when the results were compared to the rescans on days two and three.
The researchers concluded that the data “suggests that handheld Raman systems have the potential to detect substances of abuse depending on the specific sample, although further evaluation is necessary for implementation within a laboratory and as a field test.”
In order to improve Raman-based field testing, additional studies are needed on synthetic drug analogs due to the proliferation of these compounds, they said.