Italian Research Team Develops New Method For Testing Meth

By John Lavitt 08/13/14

Researchers developed a sensor that can detect the methamphetamine molecule common to almost all formulations of the drug.

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Researchers in Italy have succeeded in creating an innovative way for authorities to identify the methamphetamine molecule and accurately detect the presence of the drug.

A team of chemists invented a system that has the capacity to analyze all varieties of methamphetamine formulations, as opposed to a single recipe by focusing on a universal element. Led by Enrico Dalcanale of the University of Parma and Paolo Bergese of the University of Brescia, the Italian research team developed a molecular sensor that responds to the part of the methamphetamine molecule that is common to virtually all formulations of the drug.

Researchers first published this innovative method in the Italian chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie. It was later reported on in Scientific American, where the Italian team explained how their concept ultimately has the ability to remove the difficulties associated with detecting the subtle changes dope cookers are making in methamphetamine formulations. The peculiar recognition ability of the artificial receptor works with precision when combined with suspected meth in water.

Dalcanale described the success of his research team’s discovery. “We have demonstrated that it is possible to build a device which is capable of detecting the entire class of methamphetamines with extremely high selectivity in water.” The core of the sensor consists of a bowl-shaped supramolecular structure that is capable of acting as a host to a variety of guest molecules. X-ray diffraction demonstrated how the new molecular sensor distinctly recognizes a common structure of methamphetamine salts.

Using samples of drugs seized by police on the streets, the system responded to a number of methamphetamine formulations and could respond potentially to cocaine as well. What proved intriguing was the sensor does not react to substances that the drugs are often ‘cut’ with, such as caffeine or sugars or baby laxative. If the new approach to identifying meth is effective, it could be employed to further identify a variety of new synthetic designer drugs where minor molecular modifications are constantly being made to derail police investigations.

Dermot Diamond, director of the National Centre for Sensor Research in Ireland, wondered how effective the Italian teams impressive breakthrough actually will turn out to be in practice. "Detecting illicit drugs and their residues in wastewater is a very challenging proposition for a sensing device of the type they have produced. This is because the complexity of the same, and the range of potential interferents, goes way beyond what the authors have tested."

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.