Free NIST Software Can ID Fentanyl Analogs

The tool contains an algorithm for searching chemical databases that can recognize new fentanyl analogs even if there are no matches in the chemical databases forensic chemists are using to identify illegal drugs.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) this month released a free software tool to help forensic chemists identify fentanyl analogs, a tool that will help law enforcement trying to cope with the opioids epidemic. The agency noted that "illicit chemists" are always creating new forms of fentanyl, each with a slightly different chemical structure, and while forensic chemists need a way to identify these, the new analogs won't be in the chemical databases they use to identify illegal drugs, at least not yet.

The tool contains an algorithm for searching chemical databases that can recognize new fentanyl analogs even if there are no matches in the database. This method, called Hybrid Similarity Search, employs mass spectrometry and was recently described in Analytical Chemistry.

"If you search for one compound, you will find all the compounds that have a similar chemical structure," said Arun Moorthy, a NIST postdoc fellow and mathematical statistician who worked on the algorithm. "That should help law enforcement and public health authorities react more quickly when a new and deadly drug hits the streets."

The agency's news release said this method also works with synthetic cathinones—commonly called "bath salts"—synthetic marijuana, and other drugs.

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