Home Podcasts THMG125 – Fentanyl Detection Devices

THMG125 – Fentanyl Detection Devices


In this episode, we review our past shows on fentanyl and dig a bit deeper into this timely and relevant topic.

Complete Show Notes

6:00 Criminal Implications of Fentanyl

  • This doesn’t really affect us as hazmat technicians, but we still need to be aware
  • We still need to understand legal sampling and know whether it’s within our AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) protocol
  • There are a lot of combination fire and police teams out there, so you may be responsible for evidence collection
  • We’re interested in more less-precise methods of detecting fentanyl – just want to be reasonably sure it’s there

7:40 Ensuring Our Safety Around Fentanyl

  • We need to be aware of staying safe when we’re selecting PPE, following best practices, and performing decon
  • Reasonable cause – quick field test that gives law enforcement a reason to move forward with an investigation or place someone in custody until more concrete lab results can be obtained

10:35 Colorimetric Re-Agent Kits

  • These are basically field sample or wet chemistry kits
  • Apply steps and chemicals to your sample to eventually obtain a color change in a solution
  • A large sample is typically placed into an inexpensive bag or tube
  • Downsides:
    • You have to buy separate kits for each individual illegal substance (barbiturates, LSD, hash oil, etc.)
    • Another downfall of colorimetric kits is that you have to interact with the product – this can be very dangerous given the incredibly low amount of fentanyl it takes to harm us
    • Removing samples and placing them in a bag or test tube creates the potential to put fentanyl in the air, get on our PPE, and increases our risk of inhalation
    • These kits also require us to make a determination whether a color change has occurred, which can be difficult (especially if you’re color blind and don’t even know it)
  • There’s been some advancement in the colorimetric world – for example, DetectaChem has a product line that uses a smartphone to try to eliminate human error in reading paper strips

17:25 Raman Spectroscopy

  • Relies on Raman light scattering to measure different frequencies and intensities of light – results are plotted to create a fingerprint and matched with the corresponding substance
  • Raman meters are handheld and contain various libraries with a variety of chemicals
  • General Raman devices look at the entire sample and try to tell you what they see based on everything
  • Raman devices specifically designed for drugs ignore everything else and only look for a specific fingerprint
  • Can shoot through some glass and bags – helpful because we don’t have to directly interact with the product
  • Downsides:
    • Require a large sample to scan – you can’t point and shoot at your clothes to see if you’re contaminated
    • Each analogue of fentanyl must be in the library to have a shot of picking it up
    • There’s also a potential for fluorescence, which basically blinds the meter
    • Plus, the “fillers” and cutting agents in fentanyl tend to yield inaccurate results (or none at all) due to fluorescence

24:15 Raman Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR)

  • Works by shining a light with a whole bunch of different frequencies – each material can absorb different frequencies of light
  • Compares the light outside with the light inside – whatever isn’t there after it hits the material was absorbed by the material
  • Like traditional Raman, frequency and intensity are plotted on a chart and considered as a fingerprint
  • FTIR meters tend to have similar mixture issues as Raman meters do – difficult to pull out trace amounts of a substance when other things have been cut into it

28:05 High-Pressure Mass Spectrometry

  • Allows for swab sampling – and when they say trace amounts, they mean it
  • 908 Devices manufactures meters are able to pick up fentanyl in a 1% concentration, which is a very low mixture

30:40 Fentanyl Strips

  • A February 2018 study by the Bloomberg American Health Initiative explored the effectiveness of fentanyl strips when used to detect trace amounts of fentanyl in other drugs
  • They haven’t been rigorously tested by scientists, but they do show some progress
  • They only cost $1 per piece, which makes us wonder how effective the results will be
  • The strips were compared against a FTIR detector and a narcotics-specific Raman device
    • The strips were able to detect down to .13 micrograms/milliliter, while Raman and FTIR both detected at around 25 micrograms/milliliter – strips were 192x more powerful than meters
    • The strips gave a correct identification 96% of the time in one lab and 100% of the time in another lab – Raman hovered at around 61% and FTIR was around 83%
    • The strips said there was no fentanyl 90% of the time in one lab and 98% of the time in another, so there weren’t too many false positives
  • Fentanyl strips use something called an immunoassay test – basically, antibodies react to the fentanyl and produce a simple yes/no response that’s easy to read and doesn’t require interpretation

Have a question? Send an email to feedback@thehazmatguys.com or leave a message on our Haz Mat Guys comment hotline: 843-628-1484

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  1. Smiths Detection does have a narcotics-specific FT-IR in the TargetID that has a 2,500 compound library plus almost 20 analogs of fentanyl. Also, Rigaku has a narcotics-specific Raman unit with over 1,000 coumpounds and a large fentanyl library. This unit uses a 1064nm laser which helps with flourecense, it has an onboard camera and works with DetectaChem colormetrics. Just some info to add to the podcast that might be beneficial…. thanks for the great work!

    • Hey Travis! Thanks for the great additional information. With the number of advanced metering profiles out there on the streets, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Thanks for listening! – The Haz Mat Guys


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