In this study the recently developed technique of thermal desorption electrospray ionization/mass spectrometry (TD–ESI/MS) was applied to the rapid analysis of multiple controlled substances. With the reallocation of mass spectral resources [from a standard ESI source coupled with liquid chromatography (LC) to an ambient TD–ESI source], this direct-analysis technique allows the identification of a wider range of illicit drugs through a dual-working mode (pretreatment-free qualitative screening/conventional quantitative confirmation). Through 60-MRM (multiple reaction monitoring) analysis—in which the MS/MS process was programmed to sequentially scan 60 precursor ion/product ion transitions and, thereby, identify 30 compounds (two precursor/product ion transitions per compound)—of a four-component (drug) standard, the signal intensity ratios of each drug transition were comparable with those obtained through 8-MRM analysis, demonstrating the selectivity of TD–ESI/MS for the detection of multiple drugs. The consecutive analyses of tablets containing different active components occurred with no cross-contamination or interference from sample to sample, demonstrating the reliability of the TD–ESI/MS technique for rapid sampling (two samples min −1 ). The active ingredients in seized drug materials could be detected even when they represented less than 2 mg g −1 of the total sample weight, demonstrating the sensitivity of TD–ESI/MS. Combining the ability to rapidly identify multiple drugs with the “plug-and-play” design of the interchangeable ion source, TD–ESI/MS has great potential for use as a pretreatment-free qualitative screening tool for laboratories currently using LC–MS/MS techniques to analyze illicit drugs. © 2018

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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