Composition profiling of seized ecstasy tablets by Raman spectroscopy

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  • Steven Bell
  • D.T. Burns
  • A.C. Dennis
  • L.J. Matchett
  • J.S. Speers

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Raman spectroscopy with far-red excitation has been investigated as a simple and rapid technique for composition profiling of seized ecstasy (MDMA, N-methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine) tablets. The spectra obtained are rich in vibrational bands and allow the active drug and excipient used to bulk the tablets to be identified. Relative band heights can be used to determine drug/excipient ratios and the degree of hydration of the drug while the fact that 50 tablets per hour can be analysed allows large numbers of spectra to be recorded. The ability of Raman spectroscopy to distinguish between ecstasy tablets on the basis of their chemical composition is illustrated here by a sample set of 400 tablets taken from a large seizure of > 50000 tablets that were found in eight large bags. The tablets are all similar in appearance and carry the same logo. Conventional analysis by GC-MS showed they contained MDMA. Initial Raman studies of samples from each of the eight bags showed that despite some tablet-to-tablet variation within each bag the contents could be classified on the basis of the excipients used. The tablets in five of the bags were sorbitol-based, two were cellulose-based and one bag contained tablets with a glucose excipient. More extensive analysis of 50 tablets from each of a representative series of sample bags gave distribution profiles that showed the contents of each bag were approximately normally distributed about a mean value, rather than being mixtures of several discrete types. Two of the sorbitol-containing sample sets were indistinguishable while a third was similar but not identical to these, in that it contained the same excipient and MDMA with the same degree of hydration but had a slightly different MDMA/sorbitol ratio. The cellulose-based samples were badly manufactured and showed considerable tablet-to-tablet variation in their drug/excipient ratio while the glucose-based tablets had a tight distribution in their drug/excipient ratios. The degree of hydration in the MDMA feedstocks used to manufacture the cellulose-, glucose- and sorbitol-based tablets were all different from each other. This study, because it centres on a single seizure of physically similar tablets with the same active drug, highlights the fact that simple physical descriptions coupled with active drug content do not in themselves fully characterize the nature of the seized materials. There is considerable variation in the composition of the tablets within this single seizure and the fact that this variation can be detected from Raman spectra demonstrates that the potential benefits of obtaining highly detailed spectra can indeed translate into information that is not readily available from other methods but would be useful for tracing of drug distribution networks.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages5
Pages1811-1815
JournalAnalyst
Journal publication date2000
Issue10
Volume125
StatePublished

ID: 872825