The analysis of amphetamine-type stimulants using microchip capillary electrophoresis

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The illicit drug trade, dominated by sophisticated trans-national criminal organisations, has put increasing demands on law enforcement bodies. Timely information concerning illegal activity is required to effectively combat the illicit drug problem. Rapid, if not real-time, identification tools would help direct investigators with sampling procedures and safety precaution measures at drug-related crime scenes. In addition to enhancing work-flow processes, for example the creation of rapid laboratories or intelligence units, a major focus rests on the miniaturisation of existing analytical techniques, predominantly spectroscopic-based, in order to create field portable tools for this purpose. Currently available techniques such as colour tests, Raman and infra-red spectrometers often have limitations associated with specificity, portability and sample preparation requirements. The diverse nature of exhibits present challenges for the in-field detection of controlled drugs and pre-cursors. An emerging area of research, lab-on-a-chip (LOC), with its ability to integrate multiple functions on a microchip, has shown promising applications for in-field testing. The aim of this project was to evaluate a commercial portable microchip capillary electrophoresis (MCE) platform, the Agilent Bioanalyzer 2100, for the analysis of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). This device, although designed for the analysis of biological molecules, holds significant potential for the analysis of inorganic ions, explosives and illicit drugs. This project focused on developing and optimising a rapid, simple and inexpensive separation method. The method was adapted for the analysis of a wide range of casework exhibits including liquids, tablets and powders in order to test its in-field capabilities. The prospects, challenges and applications are discussed. This research has highlighted MCE as a competitive platform for the screening of ATS and has demonstrated its potential use in forensic drug analysis.
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