Information Pertaining to Methamphetamine
June, 2000

by Jim Woodford, Ph.D., chemist

GC/MS is called the "gold-standard" drug test for methamphetamine. The drug test operates like the procedure to open a safe or combination padlock. You need the correct set of numbers arranged in the proper combination sequence. The “key” to interpret a drug test report, e.g., to say whether it is “positive” or “negative,” depends on what combination-sequence of numbers the testing device's computer prints out.

I made a comparative study of GC/MS combination-sequences (fingerprints). Each reported to be methamphetamine. I looked for reproducibility, a procedure in laboratory work to gauge whether a test method is providing reproducible data over time. My study of GC/MS fingerprints reveals that many do not replicate, that is, they do not match-up from laboratory to laboratory. Examples follow:

First example: Missouri Regional Criminalistics Laboratory, Evidence and Results Report describes "Plastic baggies, three of which appear to contain a white residue, were analyzed and found to contain "residue of methamphetamine," fingerprint combination sequence = /39-42-58-77-89-91-115-119-134-150/ m/z.

Second example: Iowa Department of Public Safety, Division of Criminal Investigation Laboratory receipt: "Small bowl with tan substance believed to be methamphetamine," fingerprint combination sequence = /36-39-42-45-51-54-58-63-67-70-74-77-80-86-88-91-94-99-102-105-108-117-120-1 28-132-146 m/z.

Third example: Drug Enforcement Administration Laboratory Director in Miami sent a GC/MS fingerprint of “sample methamphetamine" to an Atlanta attorney (who forwarded to me for review). The fingerprint combination sequence = /42-58-77-91-119-134-148/ m/z.

Fourth example: Drug Enforcement Administration Miami laboratory report, sent to me for review, describes evidence as "Methamphetamine." The fingerprint combination sequence = /36-39-51-54-56-58-63-65-70-74-87-91-98-103-115-134-148 m/z.

Fifth example: Yakima County, Washington Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Narcotics Unit, sent a report to defense attorney who sent it to me for review. It describes a "white powder" assayed to be "99.6% methamphetamine". The fingerprint combination sequence = /58-91-134 m/z.

Sixth example: Drug Enforcement Administration, South Central Laboratory, Dallas, shipped to me for independent testing, a sample that the official laboratory describes as "99% strength methamphetamine”: the fingerprint combination sequence = /42-51-58-65-77-78-91-102-103-115-119-134-135-148 m/z.

None of the various fingerprints match in any meaningful way. Moreover, none of the fingerprints match the methamphetamine fingerprint recently published as a "Technical Note" by University of New Mexico researchers, Amitava Dasgupta Ph.D. and Amy P. Hart, M.D. in the Journal Forensic Science, Volume 42(1), page 108, 1997: e.g., /40-43-56-58-77-91-102-117-132-144-160-176-177-192-206-220 m/z.

Overall, this is bad situation for forensic science; what is the actual GC/MS fingerprint for methamphetamine? This unknown puts me, and it puts my fellow chemists, in a horrible technical bind in court. It severely complicates our doing meaningful testing of alleged methamphetamine evidence.

In addition to my study, more GC/MS failures for methamphetamine are already on record. For example, see the court case Willis vs. Roche, 21 F.3d 1368, 1994: “Summary judgment evidence further discloses that Roche lost its National Institute on Drug Abuse (NDIA) certification because of the disproportionately high level of false-positives generated by its particular administration of the GC/MS methamphetamine tests.”

In the latest glitch in the federal drug-testing program, some samples have been reported as positive for methamphetamine which turned out to contain not the illegal drug but rather ephedrine, the chief ingredient of over-the-counter asthma medication.” (Source: Substance Abuse Report, a newsletter that goes to companies that drug test).

Over-the-counter Vicks Inhaler ingredient gives false-positive GC/MS tests for methamphetamine. (Source: Review of Methamphetamine & Amphetamine Positives, 1996, Volume II, page 122 of MRO training course manual by Dr. Bush (Chief, Drug Testing Section, Division of Workplace Programs, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, United States Department of Health and Human Services).

Forensic chemists have noted this problem. For example, in a federal court case in Missouri, a defense attorney from St. Louis initially hired a forensic chemist consultant to re-test the alleged methamphetamine evidence. The chemist wrote to the attorney that, “Prior to accepting any of the sample in this case, I attempted to verify the test method would work and would provide reproducible and valid results. I was unable to achieve results that I felt I could rely on and be comfortable testifying to.”

In that case the state crime lab’s GC/MS fingerprint = /42-58-63-77-89-91-105-117-119-132-146-148-166-167 m/z. This is yet another miss-match with any of the other so-called “positive for methamphetamine" fingerprints cited above as examples.

The forensic chemist withdrew from the case. The defense attorney then applied to the court and received funding to hire me to re-test the evidence. The Missouri Highway Patrol was directed by federal court Order to mail testable samples of the methamphetamine to me and granted an extension of time to complete the testing.

I tested the chemical evidence using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Technical Support Package, MFS-28921. (Rather than rely on GC/MS fingerprint comparisons for chemical identification purposes this method determines the abuse potential). By the NASA test method the evidence’s abuse-potential was found to be less than for caffeine.

Jim Woodford, Ph.D., chemist
(615) 221-6448.