RTI International to Support Criminal Justice Efforts through Forensics Research

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – RTI International has been awarded two cooperative agreements from the National Institutes of Justice to conduct two research projects that will support and advance the use of forensic science for criminal justice purposes.

One project will focus on gaining a better understanding of the chemistry and identity of synthetically-produced designer drugs, such as the currently popular products known as “spice” or “bath salts,” which provide a high similar to an illegal substance they imitate. The other project will investigate a new technique with the potential to substantially reduce the time required to analyze illegal drugs and prescription medications in forensic laboratories.

Both projects will contribute knowledge and understanding needed to guide forensic science practice and policy decisions to help meet criminal justice challenges, particularly at state and local levels.

The first project, worth almost $800,000, is aimed at determining the chemical stability of several types of designer drugs. Researchers will identify the compounds’ metabolites and major degradation products, which will provide a better understanding how these drugs affect the human body. 

“Forensic laboratories often don’t have the time, resources or research capabilities required to keep up with the rapid development of new designer drugs,” said Megan Grabenauer, Ph.D., a research chemist at RTI and the project’s principal investigator. “This study may enable us to predict markers of use for broad classes of compounds and help practitioners keep pace with designer drug manufacturers.”

The two-year study will focus initially on synthetic cannabinoids (“spice” and “K2”) and progress to synthetic cathinones (“bath salts”), followed by other emerging designer drugs as they become prevalent.

The second project, worth more than $300,000, will evaluate the use of a new technology, called laser diode thermal desorption, paired with mass spectrometry to analyze controlled substances and drugs routinely encountered in forensic toxicology laboratories.

The one-year project has the potential to help reduce the backlog of drug-related cases in forensic laboratories.The technology has been shown to provide data comparable to traditional drug screening methods in less time and at a lower cost per sample.

“We hope that this advanced technology will produce results that are similar to what is currently being used in forensic laboratories, but in less time and with lower costs,” said Nichole Bynum, FTS-ABFT, a forensic scientist at RTI and the project’s principal investigator.

RTI will partner with Phytronix Technologies, Inc.; Overbook Scientific, Inc. and several forensic laboratories for instrumentation and method development consultation and to obtain access to archived case samples for analysis.

Highlights

  • RTI International received two cooperative agreements from the National Institutes of Justice to advance forensic science for criminal justice purposes
  • One project will focus on the chemistry and identity of synthetically-produced designer drugs
  • The other will test a technique that could reduce the time required to analyze controlled substances in forensic laboratories