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Drug Checking: Bulk and Trace Scan Explainer

Updated: Apr 3

Key Takeaways:

  • Bulk scan is a non-destructive method that quickly identifies the high concentration components of a sample such as caffeine

  • Trace scan is a semi-destructive technique that identifies the low-concentration components of a sample. Most drug targets, including harmful additives, are found at lower concentrations

  • It is crucial that both bulk and trace scans are used when testing a drug to gain the whole picture of a sample

Bulk and trace drug checking comparison
Bulk scan vs trace scan infographic

Drug checking is an important aspect of harm reduction programming. The unregulated drug supply often contains dangerous additives and cutting agents making it important for both clients and health care workers to know what is in a sample. Amplifi ID can conduct two types of scans to help obtain a detailed breakdown of components in a drug sample. This guide aims to explain the differences between the two types of drug checking techniques and describe the benefits of both.

Drug Checking With Bulk Scan

Bulk scan detects the high concentration components of a sample. Drugs are often cut with fillers which are typically less expensive substances, so that dealers can sell more with less. The cuts can be relatively benign substances, such as sugars or caffeine, but can also be laced with other drugs, such as levamisole or phenacetin which can cause adverse reactions. These cutting agents usually make up most of the sample ranging from 5-95% of the sample by weight percentage. Bulk scan is a non-destructive method of analysis meaning that none of the sample is destroyed in order to obtain results. With Amplifi ID, bulk scan requires minimal sample preparation. Simply place a translucent bag containing the sample into the attachment and scan it with the laser.

Bulk scan is an important feature for several reasons:

  • Trace scan does not test for most of the cuts and buffs found in a sample, meaning that these targets could be missed if only a trace scan is conducted

  • Some clients don’t have enough sample available to give up for a trace scan. Bulk scan, while not capturing all components, can provide a high-level overview of the substance without needing to destroy part of the sample

Drug Checking with Trace Scan

Trace scan is used to test for low concentration components in the sample. Potent drugs like fentanyl and benzodiazepines are usually present below 5% weight value which is often missed by bulk scan methods. Amplifi ID utilizes a semi-destructive technique, meaning that 5mg of sample needs to be dissolved in solution during the sample preparation protocol. This amount of sample cannot be returned to the client after the test, although this is a small amount (for context, a ‘point’ of fentanyl, a common dosage is 100mg).

Image showing the difference between bulk and trace methods when drug checking
The prevelance of an active component (ex. fentanyl) as the percentage increases

The Benefits of Using Both Bulk and Trace

The results from both scans can provide ‘semi-quantitative’ information. If fentanyl is detected in both trace and bulk scan, this means that fentanyl is present in large quantities (greater than 5% weight value). If it is only present in the trace scan results, it can be assumed the fentanyl makes up less than 5% weight value of the substance.

By using a combination of bulk and trace scan it's possible to take full advantage of Amplifi ID to generate detailed information on a sample. Bulk scan can provide insights into the cutting agents and high concentration drugs present, while trace scan catches any noteworthy substances such as fentanyl, benzodiazepines and xylazine typically found at lower concentrations. The combined results of both can also provide some semi-quantitative insights leading to a robust understanding of a drug's makeup.

If you would like to learn more about the drug checking capabilities of Amplifi ID, click the link below to get in touch with the Spectra team.


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