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District of Columbia Crime Lab Becomes Nation's First to Test for Synthetic Drugs

Updated on October 3, 2015

D.C. Pretrial Services Acquires Machine for Synthetic Drug Test

Washington’s drug testing lab is about to become the nation’s first crime lab to test criminal suspects for synthetic drugs.

Until now, D.C. Pretrial Services used standard testing methods to check for drugs such as cocaine, PCP, amphetamines, heroin and marijuana in the urine or blood of criminal suspects. The tests are run on about 8,900 people per month.

The tests are done with gas chromatography mass spectrometry machines.

More recently, D.C. Pretrial Services officials decided to purchase a more expensive testing machine called an LC-MS, which uses more sensitive liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to check for drugs, according to a report by The Legal Forum (

The new testing system is nearly certain to result in higher conviction rates for drug offenses or at least to become a factor in parole or probation proceedings. It also could help break new ground on the case law for admissibility of evidence.

A study by Pretrial Services on a small number of violent offenders in July showed 20 percent of them were high on synthetic drugs when they were arrested.

A larger sample of tests by the University of Maryland's Center for Substance Abuse Research showed as many as 50 percent of criminal suspects could be high on synthetic drugs when they are arrested.

Pretrial Services officials say the LC-MS machine is expensive but worthwhile in the long run. Contracting liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry tests to outside labs costs about $25 per test. In-house tests with the same equipment cost $3.50 per test.

Traditional tests with gas chromatography mass spectrometry costs $1.60 per test.

New Tests Can Find Synthetic Drug Use Among Crime Suspects

New lab tests make it harder for crime suspects who use synthetic drugs to avoid detection.
New lab tests make it harder for crime suspects who use synthetic drugs to avoid detection.


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