Analysis of cocaine and metabolites in hair: validation and application of measurement of hydroxycocaine metabolites as evidence of cocaine ingestion


An LC/MS/MS method to identify and quantitate in hair the minor metabolites of cocaine—meta-, para-, and ortho-hydroxy cocaine—was developed and validated. Analysis was performed on a triple quadrupole ABSciex API 3000 MS equipped with an atmospheric pressure ionization source via an IonSpray (ESI). For LC, a series 200 micro binary pump with a Perkin Elmer Model 200 autosampler was used. The limit of detection (LOD) and limit of quantification (LOQ) were 0.02 ng/10 mg hair, with linearity from 0.02 to 10 ng/10 mg hair. Concentrations of the para isomer in extensively washed hair samples were in the range of 1–2 % of the cocaine in the sample, while the concentrations of the ortho form were considerably less. The method was used to analyze large numbers of samples from two populations: workplace and criminal justice. In vitro experiments to determine if deodorants or peroxide-containing cosmetic treatments could result in the presence of these metabolites in hair showed that this does not occur with extensively washed hair. Presence of hydroxycocaines, when detected after aggressive washing of the hair samples, provides a valuable additional indicator of ingestion of cocaine rather than mere environmental exposure.

Cocaine with its numerical substitution positions: 2′ (6′) = ortho; 3′ (5′) = meta; 4′ = para

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The authors wish to thank Dr. Mahmoud A. ElSohly for his generous and most helpful collaboration.

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Correspondence to Virginia Hill.

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The authors declare that no human subjects were involved in the studies; the data presented in the paper were prior testing data stored anonymously.

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Schaffer, M., Cheng, CC., Chao, O. et al. Analysis of cocaine and metabolites in hair: validation and application of measurement of hydroxycocaine metabolites as evidence of cocaine ingestion. Anal Bioanal Chem 408, 2043–2054 (2016).

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  • Cocaine
  • Hydroxycocaine
  • Hair
  • Extended washing