Enantiomeric profiling of chiral illicit drugs in a pan-European study

Erika Castrignano, Zhugen Yang, Richard Bade, Jose A. Baz-Lomba, Sara Castiglioni, Ana Causanilles, Adrian Covaci, Emma Gracia-Lor, Felix Hernandez, Juliet Kinyua, Ann-Kathrin McCall, Alexander L. N. van Nuijs, Christoph Ort, Benedek Plosz, Pedram Ramin, Nikolaos I. Rousis, Yeonsuk Ryu, Kevin V. Thomas, Pim de Voogt, Ettore ZuccatoBarbara Kasprzyk-Hordern

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The aim of this paper is to present the first study on spatial and temporal variation in the enantiomeric profile of chiral drugs in eight European cities. Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) and enantioselective analysis were combined to evaluate trends in illicit drug use in the context of their consumption vs direct disposal as well as their synthetic production routes. Spatial variations in amphetamine loads were observed with higher use in Northern European cities. Enantioselective analysis showed a general enrichment of amphetamine with the R-(−)-enantiomer in wastewater indicating its abuse. High loads of racemic methamphetamine were detected in Oslo (EF = 0.49 ± 0.02). This is in contrast to other European cities where S-(+)-methamphetamine was the predominant enantiomer. This indicates different methods of methamphetamine synthesis and/or trafficking routes in Oslo, compared with the other cities tested. An enrichment of MDMA with the R-(−)-enantiomer was observed in European wastewaters indicating MDMA consumption rather than disposal of unused drug. MDA's chiral signature indicated its enrichment with the S-(+)-enantiomer, which confirms its origin from MDMA metabolism in humans. HMMA was also detected at quantifiable concentrations in wastewater and was found to be a suitable biomarker for MDMA consumption. Mephedrone was only detected in wastewater from the United Kingdom with population-normalised loads up to 47.7 mg 1000 people−1 day−1. The enrichment of mephedrone in the R-(+)-enantiomer in wastewater suggests stereoselective metabolism in humans, hence consumption, rather than direct disposal of the drug. The investigation of drug precursors, such as ephedrine, showed that their presence was reasonably ascribed to their medical use.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-160
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Early online date1 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • Chiral drugs
  • Enantioselective analysis
  • Illicit drugs
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modelling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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