The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s mission to protect the public health often depends on the agency’s laboratories being able to quickly and accurately analyze samples and to report those results for regulatory action.
FDA’s Forensic Chemistry Center serves as the agency’s premier national forensic laboratory for research and analyses related to criminal and regulatory investigations involving FDA-regulated products. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Forensic Chemistry Center is one of thirteen laboratories in FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs and is leading FDA’s efforts in the investigation of nationwide vaping illnesses, working closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and federal and state partners to try to identify the products or substances that may be causing the illnesses and deaths associated with the use of vaping products.
Protecting Consumers from Counterfeit, Harmful Products
In addition to the work on the vaping illness investigation, the Forensic Chemistry Center provides expert technical support and analyses for FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and for many high-profile and emergency FDA regulatory samples to protect the public from illegal and potentially harmful products. Forensic Chemistry Center scientists also provide guidance in research areas to agency officials and expert testimony in criminal and civil trials about the results of forensic analyses.
This full-service laboratory provides rapid response and specialized analytical services in forensic chemistry and molecular/microbiology related to product tampering, counterfeiting, misbranding, and adulteration/contamination. For example, Forensic Chemistry Center scientists are using the Direct Analysis in Real Time (DART-Sara) system, the Handheld Raman (HHR-Adam) and the Fourier Transform InfraRed (FTIR) spectrometer, three devices being used in the analysis of vaping fluid samples.
Forensic Chemistry Center scientists have established global partnerships and provide problem solving in support of testing and identifying substandard and/or counterfeit products. Forensic Chemistry Center scientists participate in field testing using hand held tools and also provide training to agency and international scientists and field investigators on emerging methods and new forensic tools.
Vaping Investigation Leads to New Warnings
Amid reports of 1,479 illnesses across 49 states, the District of Columbia, and 1 U.S. territory, and 33 confirmed deaths in 24 states, associated with vaping product use, the Forensic Chemistry Center is using state-of-the-art technology to analyze hundreds of samples submitted by numerous states for the presence of a broad range of chemicals, including nicotine, tetrahydrocannabinol - more commonly known as THC, other cannabinoids, and opioids along with other additives, pesticides, poisons, heavy metals and toxins.
A majority of the samples tested by the states or by FDA through this investigation have been identified as vaping products containing THC. Further, most of the patients impacted by these illnesses reported using THC-containing products.
To date, the Forensic Chemistry Center has received more than 700 samples from 23 states and 1 territory– and that number continues to grow. The Forensic Chemistry Center is working quickly and thoroughly in testing the samples, prioritizing those associated directly with patient illnesses. Many samples have contained little to no liquid, which limits the number and types of tests the Forensic Chemistry Center is able to conduct on each submission. Even so, more than half of the vaping products containing liquid have undergone some form of evaluation, with additional testing on these and other samples continuing daily.
The Forensic Chemistry Center is Essential to Criminal Investigative Work
As a close collaborator to FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation, the Forensic Chemistry Center’s work supports the agency’s investigation to try to identify the products that are making people ill and following these products to find the original source and suppliers.
As FDA works to protect the public through this investigation, the agency is warning consumers to not use vaping products that contain THC, a psychoactive component of the marijuana plant, as well as any vaping products obtained on the street or from other illicit or social sources. FDA is also warning against modifying or adding any substances, such as THC or other oils, to any vaping products, including those purchased through retail establishments.
How to Report a Problem
Both FDA and CDC encourage the public to provide detailed information related to any unexpected tobacco- or e-cigarette-related health or product issues via FDA’s online Safety Reporting Portal.