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An investigation into the application of a continuous screening, confirmation, and feedback cycle for the identification of synthetic cannabinoids in prisons

ABBOTT, Mia (2023) An investigation into the application of a continuous screening, confirmation, and feedback cycle for the identification of synthetic cannabinoids in prisons. Doctoral thesis, Staffordshire University.

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Abstract or description

Synthetic cannabinoids are extremely commonplace within the prison system and cause problems for prisoners, law enforcement and health services. Prison post continues to be a popular smuggling route for synthetic cannabinoids and therefore drug screening techniques have had to be implemented to reduce the amount of synthetic cannabinoids entering into the prison. In England, and across the United Kingdom, Ion Mobility Spectrometry (IMS), in the form of Rapiscan Systems Limited Itemiser 3E® instruments, can be used to screen for drugs in post, however, previously unencountered substances will not be recognised to produce an alarm. Efforts need to be made to identify substances that do not produce an alarm as they are not currently in the instrument library but are of interest to the authorities. Further analysis may yield additional drugs that could be added to the library to increase chance of future detection. The screening, confirmation and feedback cycle was produced through the analysis of samples from West Midlands prisons that had indicated presence of synthetic cannabinoids via confirmatory techniques: Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS), Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR).

This process resulted in 62 samples from the prison being analysed, 47 of which were paper samples. Of the 47 paper samples, nine were identified, by confirmatory analysis, to have at least one of the following synthetic cannabinoids soaked or sprayed on the paper: MMB-FUBINACA, 5F-MDMB-PICA, MMB-022 (MMB-4en-PICA), 4F-MDMB-BUTINACA and MDMB-4en-PINACA. Time-of-flight information regarding each identification was relayed to Rapiscan Systems Limited to inform library additions and updates. This was particularly pertinent for 5F-MDMB-PICA, 4F-MDMB-BUTINACA and MDMB-4en-PINACA, as 258 alarms for 5F-MDMB-PICA and 647 alarms for 4F-MDMB-BUTINACA and/or MDMB-4en-PINACA were seen after library additions and updates were produced. The library additions and updates would ensure that the instruments would alarm for future encounters of these drugs, and reduce the opportunity for synthetic cannabinoids to enter prisons.

The impact of screening regarding the number and types of drugs sent into prisons was also explored through the retrospective analysis of Itemiser 3E® data over a 40-month period. Over 72,000 items of data were evaluated, representing approximately 15,000 samples. These data were used to identify how long an emerging synthetic cannabinoid was present within the prison environment prior to library additions and updates that would have enabled their detection. The results showed that the implementation of regular assessment and updates to the instrument libraries was greatly influential on the prevalence of 5F-MDMB-PICA, MDMB-4en-PINACA and 4F-MDMB-BUTINACA within the 2018-2021 period. This highlights the importance of intelligence sharing and analytical support, but also demonstrates the information that can be captured using this data processing method.

Finally, research was dedicated to gathering information on research groups in the UK and Europe working in the field, and the organisations that provide tools to aid drug identification, to determine best practice. The information gathered was used to produce recommendations that outline the key considerations that research groups would need to apply to undertake the analysis of intelligence-based samples for prisons in their local region. The research undertaken has directly benefitted the West Midlands prisons and Rapiscan Systems Limited, and has shown how the screening, confirmation and feedback cycles could be expanded to be implemented across England to reduce the amount of synthetic cannabinoids being smuggled into prisons and allow HM Prisons and Probation Service to gather intelligence on the substances being encountered.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty: School of Law, Policing and Forensics > Forensic Sciences and Policing
Depositing User: Library STORE team
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2024 08:55
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2024 08:55

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