Signature Profiling and Classification of Illicit Heroin by GC-MS Analysis of Acidic and Neutral Manufacturing Impurities


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David Morello, B.S.
Special Testing and Research Laboratory
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
22624 Dulles Summit Court
Dulles, VA 20166-9509


Abstract:  The illicit manufacture of heroin results in the formation of trace level acidic and neutral impurities. These impurities are detectable in illicit heroin and provide valuable information about the manufacturing process used. The isolation, derivatization, and semiquantitative analysis of neutral and acidic heroin manufacturing impurities by programmed temperature vaporizing injector-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (PTV-GC-MS) is described. Trace acidic and neutral heroin impurities were isolated from basic fractions using liquid–liquid extraction. Extracted impurities were treated with N-Methyl-N-trimethylsilyltrifluoroacetamide followed by PTV-GC-MS analyses. Semiquantitative data were obtained using full scan mass spectrometry utilizing unique ions or ion combinations for 36 trace impurities found in crude and/or highly refined heroin samples. Minimum detection limits for acidic and neutral impurities were estimated to be at the 10−7 level relative to total morphine. Over 500 authentic heroin samples from South America, Mexico, Southwest Asia, and Southeast Asia were analyzed. Classification of illicit heroin based on the presence or absence and relative amounts of acidic and neutral impurities is presented.