Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 408, Issue 16, pp 4297–4309 | Cite as

Screening new psychoactive substances in urban wastewater using high resolution mass spectrometry

  • Iria González-Mariño
  • Emma Gracia-Lor
  • Renzo Bagnati
  • Claudia P. B. Martins
  • Ettore Zuccato
  • Sara Castiglioni
Research Paper


Analysis of drug residues in urban wastewater could complement epidemiological studies in detecting the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS), a continuously changing group of drugs hard to monitor by classical methods. We initially selected 52 NPS potentially used in Italy based on seizure data and consumption alerts provided by the Antidrug Police Department and the National Early Warning System. Using a linear ion trap-Orbitrap high resolution mass spectrometer, we designed a suspect screening and a target method approach and compared them for the analysis of 24 h wastewater samples collected at the treatment plant influents of four Italian cities. This highlighted the main limitations of these two approaches, so we could propose requirements for future research. A library of MS/MS spectra of 16 synthetic cathinones and 19 synthetic cannabinoids, for which analytical standards were acquired, was built at different collision energies and is available on request. The stability of synthetic cannabinoids was studied in analytical standards and wastewater, identifying the best analytical conditions for future studies. To the best of our knowledge, these are the first stability data on NPS. Few suspects were identified in Italian wastewater samples, in accordance with recent epidemiological data reporting a very low prevalence of use of NPS in Italy. This study outlines an analytical approach for NPS identification and measurement in urban wastewater and for estimating their use in the population.


Liquid chromatography High resolution mass spectrometry New psychoactive substances Urban wastewater 



This study was supported by Dipartimento Politiche Antidroga (Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri, Rome, Project Aqua Drugs) and by Regione Lombardia (Progetto Innovativo IX/000407-2010).

The authors are very grateful to Thermo Scientific for providing the software TraceFinder™ and to Frans Schoutsen for technical support

IGM extends her gratitude to the Galician Council of Culture, Education and Universities for her postdoctoral contract (Plan Galego de Investigación, Innovación e Crecemento 2011–2015).

EGL acknowledges the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development, and demonstration under Grant Agreement No. [Marie Curie-FP7-PEOPLE Grant no. 317205] for her Experienced Researcher (ER) contract.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Supplementary material

216_2016_9521_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.7 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 1.65 mb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Iria González-Mariño
    • 1
    • 2
  • Emma Gracia-Lor
    • 1
  • Renzo Bagnati
    • 1
  • Claudia P. B. Martins
    • 3
  • Ettore Zuccato
    • 1
  • Sara Castiglioni
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Health SciencesIRCCS—Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche “Mario Negri”MilanItaly
  2. 2.Department of Analytical Chemistry, Nutrition and Food Sciences, IIAA—Institute for Food Analysis and ResearchUniversity of Santiago de CompostelaSantiago de CompostelaSpain
  3. 3.Thermo Fisher ScientificSan JoseUSA

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