Despite deaths and hospitalisations linked to many new psychoactive substances (NPS), an international wastewater study led by the University of South Australia shows just how prevalent ‘party pills’ and ‘bath salts’ are in different parts of the world.

Sewage study shows which countries indulge over the new year

In a new paper published in Water Research, the world’s most comprehensive wastewater analysis of NPS shows the pattern of designer drug use in the 2019/2020 New Year in 14 sites across Australia, New Zealand, China, The Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Norway and the United States.

Research from the University of South Australia show that the Netherlands United States Australia and New Zealand are consuming the highest amounts of new illicit drugs according to the waste water samples taken from eight countries over the New Year period.

UniSA Analytical chemist Dr Richard Bade says samples were shipped to South Australia for analysis. More than 200 synthetic drugs across all countries were monitored and 16 substances found. “The eight countries studied, only Norway showed no traces of new psychoactive substances (NPS)”, he says.

New psychoactive substances a range of drugs that have been designed to mimic established illicit drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine, MDMA, and LSD.

“ The Netherlands recorded the highest usage, followed by Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Spain, Italy and China had the lowest incident of designer drugs used in cities participating in the study.”

N-Ethylpentylobe, which is known to cause fatalities, was seen in Australia, New Zealand and the US.

It has previously been detected in forensics samples at music festivals in Australia and NZ. Another design a drug called mephedrone (often referred to as drone, M-CAT and meow meow), was found only in Australia and New Zealand. I knew a drug on the market – eutylone – was seen in Australia, New Zealand, are US and the Netherlands. High dose of it have been linked to intense and particularly dangerous side-effects.

“What makes the NPS so dangerous is that they were originally sold is legal alternatives to to conventional illicit drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis suggesting they were safe when, in fact, there was very little information about their toxicity,” says dr Bade

“Governments soon intervened after hospitalisations and fatalities were linked to these class of drugs with some countries enforcing blanket bans. However, despite these bans, NPS are still synthesised, transported and consumed across the world, often with fatal consequences.”

Dr Bade says he hopes that wastewater samples will help complement hospital, legal and forensic data, along with global surveys, to identify which designer drugs are the most dangerous in the community.