Chemistry PhD Student Receives Recognition For Work Detecting Drug Abuse During Football Games
The festivities of Ole Miss football are like none other. The excitement of the Grove, the camaraderie of the game and the parties that follow are unparalleled, regardless of the outcome. For Chemistry Ph.D. student Brandon Stamper, last year’s tumultuous season was an opportunity to study what goes on behind the scenes.
“During football games we collected wastewater from the wastewater treatment plant on campus and then also the wastewater treatment plant for the city of Oxford,” said Stamper. “We analyzed that wastewater for drugs of abuse.”
Stamper, who received travel grants from the Graduate School and Chemistry Department, presented his project at the American Society of Mass Spectrometry Conference in Tampa, Florida, where he won one of five best poster awards.
“For the initial study there were seven drugs that we analyzed for: amphetamine, methamphetamine, Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), methylenedioxy–methamphetamine (MDMA), Methylenedioxyethylamphetamine (MDEA), Cocaine and benzoylecgonine (BE). All of these are what we would consider to be stimulant drugs,” said Stamper. “We were trying to compare first if the levels of drugs went up during the football games and then also trying to compare between the university and the city to see if being on the campus made any difference.”
Stamper monitored the first four home games, and his research showed that amphetamine and BE levels in wastewater rose significantly during football games at the university, and the better the season got, the more was found. Although there is no way to tell how many people were using these drugs, it was evident that there was an increase.
“It was a pretty miniscule amount. We collected these samples day before, day of game and day after, collected away game and collected two Wednesday to compare with,” said Stamper. “There is no doubt that if we did this on another campus it would have the same kind of results. I can’t say with 100% certainty that it’s not unique to Ole Miss, but I can make an educated guess.”
This is the first time a sewage-based epidemiology study has been applied to a live sporting event. It was first proposed in 2001 and has been done on cities and remote locations, but Stamper is the first to perform it at the location of a special event.
Next, Stamper is planning to use the same samples from last year’s game to test for the amounts of opiates in the water.
Stamper’s project is in collaboration with Forensic Chemistry Professor, Dr. Murrell Godfrey and the Elsohly Laboratories in Oxford. The project was the brainchild of Dr. Waseem Gul from Elsohly labs. Stamper said he was pleased that Gul shared the idea with him.
Although Stamper is continuing to study sewage-based epidemiology, his dissertation is focused on the study of synthetic cannabinoids, which are recreational drugs that are continually modified and thus difficult to detect. These are drugs such as Spice and K2 that link to the same receptor as THC, the active constituent in marijuana.
“The aim of our research is first to develop ways to detect cannabinoids in confiscated samples. Second to identify what the metabolites of the cannabinoid are, and then develop methods for analyzing biological samples for those metabolites. The third goal is to try and come up with some all-encompassing detection method. Something that would let you know that there is a cannabinoid in the sample no matter what the class of the cannabinoid is.”
Stamper plans to graduate in three years with a Ph.D. in Chemistry with a focus on analytical chemistry.