Qualitative Identification of Fentanyl Analogs and Other Opioids in Postmortem Cases by UHPLC-Ion Trap-MSn.J Anal Toxicol. 2017 07 01; 41(6):484-492.JA
Since 2013, the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department has experienced an increase in the number of opioid-related deaths. The majority of cases coincided with the introduction of fentanyl into the local heroin supply. From 2014 to 2015, Miami-Dade County experienced a near 600% increase in fentanyl-related deaths, followed by an additional 200% increase in 2016. In 2015, two novel fentanyl analogs were identified in medical examiner cases: beta-hydroxythiofentanyl and acetyl fentanyl. In 2016, four additional fentanyl analogs emerged: para-fluoroisobutyryl fentanyl, butyryl fentanyl, furanyl fentanyl and carfentanil, as well as the synthetic opioid U-47700. In order to address this epidemic, a method was developed and validated to identify 44 opioid-related and analgesic compounds in postmortem samples using ultra high performance liquid chromatography ion trap mass spectrometry with MSn capabilities. The limit of detection for all compounds ranged from 0.1 to 5 ng/mL, with a majority having MS3 spectral fragmentation. Blood, urine, liver or brain specimens from ~500 postmortem cases were submitted for analysis based on case history and/or initial screening results. Of those cases, 375 were positive for illicit fentanyl and/or one or more fentanyl analogs. Due to the potency of these compounds, they were almost always included in the cause of death. Worth emphasizing and extremely alarming is the detection of carfentanil in 134 cases, 104 of which were initially missed by gas chromatography mass spectrometry. By incorporating this sensitive, highly specific, and evolving screening procedure into the workflow, the toxicology laboratory continues to effectively assist the medical examiners in determining the cause and manner of death of decedents in Miami-Dade County.