A simple 5-minute test can now identify synthetic drugs

An Australian chemist has created a test that simply changes color when it detects synthetic cathinones (with properties close to those of amphetamines), better known as bath salts.

Synthetic drugs are designed to mimic the effects of drugs such as MDMA, cocaine, marijuana by altering one or more of the molecules in the chemical structure. These changes allow substances not necessarily to be detected by existing tests, and can therefore circumvent the law and pass border control more easily. Moreover, their effects can also be much stronger, and sometimes unpredictable and dangerous.

“They are similar to existing, often legal, drugs, but are altered in the manufacturing process to produce slight changes in chemical structure” explains Mark Tahtouh, head of the Australian Federal Police medical team. “This makes them difficult to detect to begin with, and also to identify if they are illicit. « . Currently, if a drug is suspected of being a synthetic cathinone, the substance would have to be sent to a lab for analysis, a time-consuming and expensive process that can seriously slow down any type of intervention. “The analyzes take a long time, not to mention the time to send the substance to the laboratory,” explains Tahtouh.

The new color test, designed by chemist Morgan Philp of the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), is expected to help law enforcement stop huge shipments of the substance. « Cathinones are usually made in China or India and sent here in disguise, » says Philp. “If the police or customs are notified that a substance is suspicious and needs to be tested, they would be able to intervene and stop the drug from reaching the streets. »

What is revolutionary about this test is that it does not need to be performed by specialists. You only need a pinhead amount of the substance, by adding three reagents and heating the mixture to 80 degrees Celsius you can tell by a yellow or orange color change if the substance is synthetic cathinone in 5-10 minutes. “Color testing is quick, easy to perform and does not require specialization on the part of the tester”said Tahtouh.

“A positive result does not give a definitive result, but it points us in the right direction. If we have someone in custody, for example, we could act quickly. »


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