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WIREs Forensic Sci

Identification and associated hazards of clandestine drug laboratories

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Abstract The production of illicit drugs at clandestine laboratory operations is a world‐wide problem with many associated public health hazards. This review describes many laboratory types that might be encountered by the clandestine laboratory response personnel, describing the materials and processes associated with different clandestine laboratories to aid in awareness and hazard identification. Clandestine laboratories generally create products according to market forces, including the end‐user expectations with regard to product appearance (e.g., as solid or liquid, in powder or tablet formulation) and potency. The clandestine laboratories use different materials, and processes depending on the laboratory's access to precursors, their ability to produce quantities sufficient to meet market demands, and also their ability to circumvent local, national and international laws and regulations. The information presented here is aimed at both laboratory‐based scientists and analysts who have to understand the classical methods for production, which are still used, and consider novel methods using alternative precursors. It is important to be cognizant of the emerging drugs and drug analogues, how these are considered under the law, and how they can be safely collected for analysis. Clandestine laboratory responders must consider the information presented here from the perspective of the risks associated with the drugs, precursors, waste materials and equipment. As clandestine laboratories and drug markets are constantly evolving, responders need to consistently pursue ongoing education, research, and collaboration with the constant review and assessment of the emerging drugs and precursors seized during operations and reported on regional and international forums. This article is categorized under: Forensic Chemistry and Trace Evidence > Controlled and Emerging Drug Compounds Toxicology > Drug Analysis Crime Scene Investigation > Crime Scene Examination
Crystal methamphetamine. Image from the DEA
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The seven structural classes of benzodiazepines
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The basic chemical structure of cathinones
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Structural backbones of the 14 classes of synthetic cannabinoid compounds
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(a) Rotary evaporator used to remove alcohol during the second purification of THC. (b) Vacuum oven used to dry the THC following alcohol extraction
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Example of a CO2 extraction system for THC. The plant material goes into the cylinder on the left side, and the carbon dioxide is heated in the lower tank area and is under high pressure. The THC is collected in the two cylinders that are in the center of the unit. This unit has previously failed, resulting in an explosion. Note the damage on the wall to the right (circled)
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Ways to purify THC from the cannabis plant
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The conversion of CBD‐A and THC‐A from CBGA in marijuana and hemp plants. CBD‐A and THC‐A can be converted to CBD and THC, respectively, through the use of heat light. Hemp has higher CBD content while marijuana has higher THC content
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The bucket method for synthesis of phencyclidine
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Two versions of the mixed anhydride method of LSD synthesis
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The acyl chloride method of LSD synthesis
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Two versions of the dicyclohexylcarbodiimide method of LSD synthesis
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Carbonyldiimidazole method of LSD synthesis
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The azide method of LSD synthesis
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Janssen method of fentanyl synthesis
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Crack cocaine produced with the microwave method
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Overview of the extraction process of cocaine from coca leaves
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The major functional groups of the fentanyl structure
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Siegfried method of fentanyl synthesis
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Example of a heroin laboratory uncovered in Afghanistan
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Conversion of morphine to heroin
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Compounds of interest in opium
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Common synthetic methods for a range of 3,4‐methylenedioxyamphetamines
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Structural similarities between benzaldehyde and piperonal
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Process diagram for the forensic chemist
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An example of hazard removal using a decontamination shower system
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Example of a decontamination line
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Example of military personal protective equipment
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Example of improvised equipment located at a clandestine laboratory (Schwartz, 2011)
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Example of a fire‐retardant ensemble used by the Australian Federal Police during off‐shore responses for clandestine laboratory investigations
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Equipment located in South East Asia used to prepare methamphetamine via the Emde method
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Example of improvised equipment for a “one pot” methamphetamine preparation
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Equipment in a large‐scale manufacture laboratory
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Crude methamphetamine from the hypo method
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Crude methamphetamine containing red phosphorus residue
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Ephedra plant material collected in Afghanistan
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Pseudoephedrine at a laboratory in South East Asia
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Waste from pharmaceutical packages at a clandestine laboratory in Afghanistan
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Tablet waste from a methamphetamine laboratory in Afghanistan
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Relationship of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine isomers
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Synthetic methods for amphetamine and methamphetamine
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Drug production at a rural laboratory
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A portable laboratory set up on the back of a vehicle
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Entrance to a buried sea container used as a clandestine laboratory
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Industrial scale laboratory at a commercial location
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Clandestine laboratory in the kitchen of a domestic dwelling
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Examples of different sized clandestine laboratories. (a) Addict‐based (kitchen) laboratory, (b) other small‐scale laboratory, (c) medium sized laboratory, and (d) industrial scale laboratory
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Crystalized methylsulfonylmethane that can be mistaken for and sold as crystal methamphetamine
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Variable dose of active substance in clandestinely manufactured pills. From the UNODC Global SMART Update: fentanyl and its analogues—50 years on, ©2017 United Nations. Reprinted with the permission of the United Nations
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Tablets comprised of a small amount of active drug and a larger amount of inactive materials and binders
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Clothing with heroin absorbed into the fabric to allow smuggling without detection
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Browse by Topic

Forensic Science in Action/Crime Scene Investigation > Crime Scene Examination
Toxicology > Drug Analysis
Forensic Chemistry and Trace Evidence > Controlled and Emerging Drug Compounds

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