Sewage test for new psychoactive substances

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  • Published: Sep 16, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Sample Preparation / HPLC / Electrophoresis / Laboratory Informatics / Proteomics & Genomics / Gas Chromatography / Detectors / Ion Chromatography / X-ray Spectrometry / Chemometrics & Informatics / Base Peak / Raman / NMR Knowledge Base / Proteomics / Infrared Spectroscopy / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / Atomic / MRI Spectroscopy

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The last decade has seen the introduction and rise of water testing for drugs of abuse and the approach has now been extended to the analysis of sewage for new psychoactive substances.

Since the idea was first reported in 2001, water sources such as rivers and sewage input have been targeted to derive estimates of drug use in the local community. One of the earliest applications was the measurement of cocaine in the River Po in Italy and this has been extended to other illicit drugs and prescription drugs, and to estimate illegal drug use in prisons. Recently it has also been applied to estimate tobacco use by measuring two of its principal metabolites in municipal sewage.

The data can be used to support information collection by conventional routes such as consumer surveys, medical records and crime statistics.

Now, a group of European scientists has used the same technique to estimate the use of new psychoactive substances from localities in Belgium and Switzerland by measuring them in sewage influent. NPS are drugs that mimic the effect of illegal drugs like cocaine and amphetamines but have not yet been added to the banned lists and are easily bought over the Internet.

Writing in Drug Testing and Analysis, the team described how they used a liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry method to detect and quantify seven NPS, namely methoxetamine, butylone, ethylone, methylone, methiopropamine, 4-methoxymethamphetamione and 4-methoxyamphetamine.

All but the amphetamines were detected and the concentrations can be extrapolated to give an estimate of the average consumption of each drug in the catchment areas of the sewage plants. These values might be higher when metabolites of the drugs are also taken into account.

The scheme can easily be extended to other NPS as their popularities grow and they become significant compounds on the drug scene.


1. At 03:27 on Oct 16, 2015, Caroline Green wrote:

This is a way, but may be not the most suitable way. Anyway, we should pay more attention to environmental issues.

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