Estimation of community-wide drugs use via stereoselective profiling of sewage

Sci Total Environ. 2012 Apr 15;423:142-50. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2012.02.019. Epub 2012 Mar 7.


This paper explores possibilities of applying enantiomeric profiling to solving problems related to estimation of drugs usage in communities via the sewage epidemiology approach: for the identification of whether drug residue results from consumption of illicit drug or metabolism of other drugs, verification of potency of used drugs and monitoring of changing patterns of drugs abuse. Due to the very complex nature of wastewater used in sewage epidemiology, which comes from the whole community rather than one individual, verification of the above is challenging but vital in accurate estimations of drugs abuse as well as providing comprehensive information regarding drug abuse trends. The results of this study indicated that amphetamine in raw wastewater was enriched with R(-)-enantiomer due to its abuse as racemate. Methamphetamine was found to be racemic or to be enriched with S(+)-enantiomer. MDMA was enriched with R(-)-MDMA, which was to be expected as MDMA is abused as racemate. MDA was enriched with S(+)-enantiomer, which suggests that its presence might be associated with MDMA abuse and not intentional MDA use. Out of the four possible isomers of ephedrine only natural 1R,2S(-)-ephedrine and 1S,2S(+)-pseudoephedrine were detected in raw wastewater and their diastereomeric fractions were found to be season dependent with higher contribution from 1S,2S(+)-pseudoephedrine over winter months and an enrichment with 1R,2S(-)-ephedrine during the spring and summer months. These findings were accompanied by a decrease of cumulative concentration of ephedrines throughout the sampling campaign between February and August. This is a very important finding indicating that non-enantioselective measurement of ephedrine concentrations cannot be a reliable indicator of actual potency of ephedrines used.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine / analysis
  • 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine / chemistry
  • Amphetamines / analysis
  • Amphetamines / chemistry
  • England / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / analysis*
  • Illicit Drugs / chemistry
  • Methamphetamine / analysis
  • Methamphetamine / chemistry
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / analysis
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / chemistry
  • Prescription Drugs / analysis
  • Prescription Drugs / chemistry
  • Sewage / chemistry*
  • Stereoisomerism
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*


  • Amphetamines
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Sewage
  • Methamphetamine
  • 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine