Detection of mephedrone and its metabolites in fingerprints from a controlled human administration study by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry and paper spray-mass spectrometry†
The use of synthetic stimulants, including designer cathinones, remains a significant concern worldwide. Thus, the detection and identification of synthetic cathinones in biological matrices is of paramount importance for clinical and forensic laboratories. In this study, distribution of mephedrone and its metabolites was investigated in fingerprints. Following a controlled human mephedrone administration (100 mg nasally insufflated), two mass spectrometry-based methods for fingerprint analysis have been evaluated. The samples deposited on triangular pieces of chromatography paper were directly analysed under ambient conditions by paper spray-mass spectrometry (PS-MS) while those deposited on glass cover slips were extracted and analysed by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). The LC-MS/MS method was 5–6 times more sensitive than PS-MS but required sample preparation and longer analysis time. Mephedrone was detected in 62% and in 38% of all post-administration samples analysed by LC-MS/MS and PS-MS, respectively. Nor-mephedrone was the only metabolite detected in 3.8% of all samples analysed by LC-MS/MS. A large inter- and intra-subject variation was observed for mephedrone which may be due to several factors, such as the applied finger pressure, angle and duration of contact with the deposition surface and inability to control the ‘amount’ of collected fingerprint deposits. Until these limitations are addressed, we suggest that the sole use of fingerprints can be a useful diagnostic tool in qualitative rather than quantitative analysis, and requires a confirmatory analysis in a different biological matrix.