In many jurisdictions, public safety and public health entities are working together to enhance the timeliness and accuracy of the analytical characterization and toxicology testing of novel synthetic opioids. The improved sharing and early detection of these analytical data are intended to inform surveillance, interdiction efforts, patient intervention and treatment, all of which are critical to curbing the opioid epidemic. Forensic practitioners working to identify novel synthetic opioids struggle to provide timely results when encountering new or unknown substances, such as the fentanyl analogs. These compounds, which mimic heroin in pharmacologic effect but can be far more potent, are inconsistently present in chemical identification libraries, and are currently largely unavailable as reference materials for analytical comparison. Additionally, federal, state and local governments as well as nongovernmental organizations require potency, toxicity and potential-for-abuse data to evaluate the potential health risks of emerging drug threats. Subsequent scheduling efforts and criminal prosecutions also require these thorough drug characterization studies. Pilot programs have demonstrated that early communication of real-time drug toxicity and analytical data significantly impacts the successful response to emerging opioids. High-quality, real-time, national-level data on chemical composition, toxicological test data, drug toxicity and overdoses, and analysis of seized materials by law enforcement are needed to track drug trends. However, the USA still lacks a national system to coordinate and communicate toxicology, medical and medical examiner and coroner data with the broader medical and law enforcement communities. Opportunities to address these gaps as well as recent advancements collected through interagency efforts and technical workshops in the toxicology and analytical chemistry communities are presented here. Opportunities for partnership, increased communication and expanding best practices to move toward an integrated, holistic analytical response are also explored.
The opioid epidemic
Moving toward an integrated, holistic analytical response
Morrow, J. B., Ropero-Miller, J. D., Catlin, M. L., Winokur, A. D., Cadwallader, A. B., Staymates, J. L., Williams, S. R., McGrath, J. G., Logan, B. K., McCormick, M. M., Nolte, K. B., Gilson, T. P., Menendez, M. J., & Goldberger, B. A. (2019). The opioid epidemic: Moving toward an integrated, holistic analytical response. Journal of Analytical Toxicology, 43(1), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1093/jat/bky049