Enhancement in sample collection for the detection of MDMA using a novel planar SPME (PSPME) device coupled to ion mobility spectrometry (IMS)

Drug Test Anal. 2009 Jul;1(7):355-62. doi: 10.1002/dta.81.


Trace detection of illicit drugs challenges the scientific community to develop improved sensitivity and selectivity in sampling and detection techniques. Ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) is one of the prominent trace detectors for illicit drugs and explosives, mostly due to its portability, high sensitivity and fast analysis. Current sampling methods for IMS rely on wiping suspected surfaces or withdrawing air through filters to collect particulates. These methods depend greatly on the particulates being bound onto surfaces or having sufficient vapour pressure to be airborne. Many of these compounds are not readily available in the headspace due to their low vapour pressure. This research presents a novel SPME device for enhanced air sampling and shows the use of optimized IMS by genetic algorithms to target volatile markers and/or odour signatures of illicit substances. The sampling method was based on unique static samplers, planar substrates coated with sol-gel polydimethyl siloxane (PDMS) nanoparticles, also known as planar solid-phase microextraction (PSPME). Due to its surface chemistry, high surface area and capacity, PSPME provides significant increases in sensitivity over conventional fibre SPME. The results show a 50-400 times increase in the detection capacity for piperonal, the odour signature of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). The PSPME-IMS technique was able to detect 600 ng of piperonal in a 30 s extraction from a quart-sized can containing 5 MDMA tablets, while detection using fibre SPME-IMS was not attainable. In a blind study of six cases suspected to contain varying amounts of MDMA in the tablets, PSPME-IMS successfully detected five positive cases and also produced no false positives or false negatives. One positive case had minimal amounts of MDMA resulting in a false negative response for fibre SPME-IMS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air / analysis
  • Algorithms
  • Hallucinogens / analysis
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / analysis
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / analysis*
  • Solid Phase Microextraction / methods
  • Spectrum Analysis / methods*
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*
  • Tablets
  • Time Factors


  • Hallucinogens
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Tablets
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine