Simultaneous analysis of frequently used licit and illicit psychoactive drugs in breast milk by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry

J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2011 May 15;55(2):309-16. doi: 10.1016/j.jpba.2011.01.028. Epub 2011 Jan 28.


A liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS-MS) method for the quantification of frequently used licit (caffeine, nicotine and cotinine) and illicit drugs (opiates, cocaine, cannabinoids and amphetamines) in breast milk was developed and fully validated. Chromatography was performed on a reverse-phase column using a gradient of 2mM ammonium acetate, pH 6.6, and methyl alcohol as mobile phase at a flow rate of 0.35 mL/min. Separated analytes were quantified by electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry in positive ion mode using multiple reaction monitoring. Milk samples were kept at -20 °C until analysis and the compounds under investigation were extracted from the matrix by Bond Elut Certify cartridges. The concentration range covered was LOQ to 1000 ng/mL for all the investigated drugs. Intra- and inter-assay imprecision was less than 20%, analytical recovery ranged between 51.6% and 86.5%, matrix effect between 71.1% and 116.6% and process efficiency between 46.8% and 84.0%. Analytes were stable after three freeze-thaw cycles, after 6 months at -20 °C and after the pasteurization process (differences to the initial concentration always lower than 10%). matrix effect ranged from 77.6% to 116.6%, recovery from 51.6% to 86.5%, and process efficiency from 46.8% to 79.0%. This LC-MS-MS assay was applied to screen samples from the largest Spanish milk bank and samples coming from drug addicted mothers. The developed method provided adequate sensitivity and performance characteristics to prove the presence of only caffeine in a small percentage of samples from milk donating nursing mothers and the presence or absence of most commonly used illicit drugs in breast milk from addicted lactating mothers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, Liquid / methods*
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / analysis*
  • Limit of Detection
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / analysis*
  • Reference Standards
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Psychotropic Drugs