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Profiling of ecstasy tablets (XTsee)

Research project DR/27 (Research action DR)


Persons :


Description :

Belgium is the second most important ecstasy producing country in the world, after the Netherlands. It is estimated that 14 percent of the ecstasy tablets in the world are produced in Belgium. In 2004, 8 clandestine laboratories were dismantled and seven million ecstasy tablets were confiscated. The Belgian Federal Police force estimates that only 7-8% of the clandestine ecstasy production is confiscated, so that each year 80 millions tablets are produced. At the present the analysis of the ecstasy tablets has been generally restricted to the size, the weight, the colour, the logo and the composition of the tablets. Real profiling has not been carried out. There is a demand for more detailed profiling, so that the individual tablets could be tracked to the clandestine laboratories. Confiscated tablets can be linked by profiling, and even drug trafficking routes can be identified.

Samples of several laboratories and large drug captures will be collected. In the laboratories and at the drug captures, several samples will be taken, in order to obtain random samples from different containers/batches. Analysis and comparison of these samples will allow to choose the most useful parameters for determining the intra-lot variation and to distinguish between batches from different and batches from the same laboratories. This will allow us to answer the question whether the variability between chemists and laboratories is much larger than the batch-to-batch variability.

The tablets will also be photographed and physically examined. Weight, size (thickness and diameter), form, colour of the surface, colour of the tablet, logo (in front and at the back), score, granulousness and possible odour will be determined.

With chemical profiling of the ecstasy tablets the synthetic routes, possibly used for manufacturing the drugs, can be identified. The necessary raw materials can then be identified and the use of these chemicals controlled. Identifying the additives and the impurities, which can be a danger for the public health because of inherent dangers, can be done as well.

Production of illegal ecstasy can be done in three different ways. The most popular way for the illegal production of ecstasy is the reductive amination of 1-(3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl)-2-propanone (PMK). A diversity of reducing agents is used in clandestine laboratories, but mostly reduction is done with PtO as a catalysing agent or with NaBH4 at a low temperature. The other methods for production of illegal ecstasy are the Leuckart reaction and bromination of safrole.

For chemical profiling two methods will be used. These methods are a non-destructive method called Raman spectroscopy (RS) and a destructive method called gas chromatography–mass spectroscopy (GC-MS). With the aid of literature, contact with the research project CHAMP (Collaborative Harmonisation or Methods for Profiling or Amphetamine type of Stimulants) and empirical research, methods will be developed, validated and applied for profiling the tablets. GC-MS is an established value for profiling illegal drugs. Comparison of the results of RS, a new and fast method, with the results of GC-MS, a labour-intensive method, can perhaps supply valuable additional information.

The results of both the physical and chemical profiling will be entered into a database. Then a search algorithm will be tested on these results. The different tablets/batches will be compared, and if possible, matched batches will be found.


Documentation :

Profileren van ecstasytabletten  Devuyst, Elke - Lamping, Sarah - Verstraete, Alain  Gent : Academia Press, 2007 (PB6201)

Profilage chimique des drogues de synthèse (XTsee) : résumé    Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2007 (SP1752)
[To download

Profileren van ecstasytabletten : samenvatting    Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2007 (SP1753)
[To download

Profiling of ecstasy tablets : summary    Brussels : Federal Science Policy, 2007 (SP1754)
[To download

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