Efficiency of extraction and conversion of pseudoephedrine to methamphetamine from tamper-resistant and non-tamper-resistant formulations

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Abstract

Clandestine chemists have demonstrated an ability to convert commercially available pseudoephedrine formulations to methamphetamine. Some of these formulations have properties that manufacturers claim limit or block the extraction of pseudoephedrine and its direct conversion to methamphetamine. In this study, 3 commercially available pseudoephedrine formulations were evaluated for ease of extraction and conversion to methamphetamine using a common chemistry technique called the one-pot method that is frequently employed by clandestine chemists. Two marketed pseudoephedrine formulations with claimed tamper-resistant properties – Zephrex-D® and Nexafed® – were compared to Sunmark®, a comparator formulation of pseudoephedrine without tamper-resistant properties. Particle size reduction was conducted using 8 readily available tools; solubility was assessed using 2 common aqueous solutions and various reaction conditions (e.g., temperature, stirring); extractability was evaluated using 8 common organic solvents. The one-pot (single vessel) method commonly used in clandestine processes was employed; chemicals and equipment were purchased locally on the open market. Quantities and addition times of the chemicals used to carry out the procedure and the duration of the reaction were varied to determine the effect on methamphetamine yield. The procedure was appropriately scaled and conducted in a controlled environment to reduce risk and maximize yields. Pseudoephedrine and methamphetamine were quantified using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS). Standard quantitative procedures were used to determine the quantities of pseudoephedrine and methamphetamine recovered and produced, respectively. Particle size reduction resulted in some loss of material of each pseudoephedrine formulation; Zephrex-D tablets were broken down to a coarse material; Nexafed and Sunmark tablets were reduced to a fine powder. The solubility rates of intact and ground tablets varied by product; Zephrex-D was most resistant to solubilizing while Nexafed and Sunmark were comparable and dissolved completely, demonstrating no solubility-resistant properties. Conditions of the one-pot method were modified throughout the studies to increase methamphetamine yield. Using optimal parameters identified in these studies and allowing the reaction to proceed for 90 min, average percent conversions were similar for the 3 formulations: 43.3% for Zephrex-D, 46.4% for Nexafed, and 48.6% for Sunmark. The greatest conversion occurred with a 150 min reaction time and resulted in 44.8%–48.4% conversion of Zephrex-D, 54.1%–66.4% conversion of Nexafed, and 58.6%–71.8% conversion of Sunmark. This series of methodological evaluations demonstrated that clandestine chemists can readily produce similar yields of methamphetamine using pseudoephedrine products with and without claimed tamper-resistant technology.

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