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Forensic drug analysis

Our Australian Forensic Drug Laboratory (AFDL) is leading the way in identifying novel psychoactive substances.

We are the only Australian dedicated drug profiling laboratory that offers this type of expertise and scientific instrumentation.

Our laboratory is Australia’s pre-eminent facility for identifying:

  • drugs and poisons
  • drug precursor chemicals
  • controlled substances 
  • performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDS) including growth hormones.

We are the leading Australian laboratory for identifying novel psychoactive substances and Australia’s only dedicated drug profiling laboratory. We possess a breadth of expertise and scientific instrumentation not available elsewhere in Australia. 

We provide analytical services and expert scientific advice to our major stakeholders:

  • Australian Federal Police (AFP) 
  • Australian Border Force (ABF) 
  • state and territory law enforcement agencies and forensic laboratories.

Analysing drugs and poisons 

National Measurement Institute scientists produce routine analytical results on border seizures for the AFP and ABF. This includes drugs, poisons and precursor chemicals including the high volume drugs like methylamphetamine, heroin and cocaine. 

Our experts:

  • identify and quantify over 200 illicit drugs and drug precursor chemicals
  • identify and quantify over 600 novel psychoactive substances including synthetic cannabinoids, cathinone derivatives and phenethylamines
  • provide state and territory jurisdictions with specialised forensic chemistry services
  • provide expert scientific advice to law enforcement agencies, universities and State and Commonwealth government committees.
  • represent NMI on the:
    • Australian New Zealand Forensic Executive Committee (ANZFEC)
    • National Association of Testing Authorities’ Forensic Science Accreditation Advisory Committee (FSAAC)
  • working with universities to conduct formal research projects in illicit drug chemistry 
  • provide court testimony to state and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. 

Our services support Australian Government and state and territory law enforcement agencies, including the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) and various state DPPs. Our work forms part of the briefs of evidence and must be able to withstand intense court scrutiny.

Analysing novel psychoactive substances (NPS)

One of the biggest issues facing forensic scientists since the mid-2000s has been the emergence of the NPS class of drug. More than 600 new psychoactive substances have been discovered worldwide since this time.

We are world leaders in identifying NPS. We employ sophisticated technologies for molecular structure elucidation to identify drugs that had never been encountered before. These technologies include:

  • nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy 
  • high resolution mass spectroscopy (HRMS).

Drug profiling 

We are the only forensic facility in Australia and one of only a handful in the world to provide a comprehensive drug profiling program. The Australian Illicit Drug Intelligence Program (AIDIP) assists national and international law enforcement agencies by providing intelligence that helps to disrupt the diversion of legitimate industrial chemicals for illegitimate precursor chemical use. 

AIDIP is a collaboration between us and the AFP.  AIDIP collaborates with international organisations like:

  • the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (US DEA) 
  • the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The AFP’s program disrupts drug manufacturing and trafficking. It uses intelligence to identify the:

  • geographical origin of cultivated drugs like heroin and cocaine 
  • synthetic origin of drugs like methylamphetamine (‘ice’).

Our laboratory uses complex scientific instrumentation, including:

  • nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • high resolution mass spectroscopy
  • light element stable isotope ratio mass spectroscopy
  • headspace solvent analysis
  • inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.

AIDIP has been in operation for 15 years and is harmonised with the US DEA. It covers a range of high volume trafficked drugs including heroin, cocaine, methylamphetamine, pseudoephedrine and ‘ecstasy’ (MDMA). Sharing intelligence with the US DEA (in particular their database of authentic drug samples) has made the following important programs possible:

  • Heroin Signature Program
  • Cocaine Signature Program
  • Methylamphetamine Profiling program.

Research and development services

AFDL scientists and university students carry out research that underpins our drug profiling program. The research is always designed with a focus on law enforcement benefit. Students from local universities obtain placements within the AFDL that lead to Honours degrees, MSc and PhD degrees.

Turnaround times

  • routine identification and quantification of common illicit drugs: 21 calendar days
  • urgent identification of common illicit drugs: 1 to 5 calendar days
  • drug profiling services: 6 to 12 weeks
  • NPS identification: up to 4 weeks.

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