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Wastewater-based epidemiology is an innovative approach to estimate public health status using biomarker analysis in wastewater. A new compound detected in wastewater can be a potential biomarker of an emerging trend in public health. However, it is currently difficult to select new biomarkers mainly due to limited human metabolism data. This manuscript presents a new framework, which enables the identification and selection of new biomarkers of human exposure to drugs with scarce or unknown human metabolism data. Mephedrone was targeted to elucidate the assessment of biomarkers for emerging drugs of abuse using a four-step analytical procedure. This framework consists of: (i) identification of possible metabolic biomarkers present in wastewater using an in-vivo study; (ii) verification of chiral signature of the target compound; (iii) confirmation of human metabolic residues in in-vivo/vitro studies and (iv) verification of stability of biomarkers in wastewater. Mephedrone was selected as a suitable biomarker due to its high stability profile in wastewater. Its enantiomeric profiling was studied for the first time in biological and environmental matrices, showing stereoselective metabolism of mephedrone in humans. Further biomarker candidates were also proposed for future investigation: 4′-carboxy-mephedrone, 4′-carboxy-normephedrone, 1-dihydro-mephedrone, 1-dihydro-normephedrone and 4′-hydroxy-normephedrone.
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