Facilitating Detection of New Psychoactive Substances in Wastewater

ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award

This project aims to develop and apply novel analytical methods for detecting new psychoactive substances (NPS) in wastewater. NPS are a dynamic, complex addition to the illicit drug market and a persistent analytical challenge for wastewater analysis. The current means to monitor NPS use is through reactive measures by policing and forensic

agencies as well as epidemiological surveys. At that point, the opportunity to mitigate negative societal impacts has passed. Wastewater analysis is implemented as a complementary tool because it can provide a fast (e.g. days-weeks) snapshot of illicit drug consumption in the community. Although established for more than a decade, the constantly shifting profile of NPS is a persistent analytical challenge. The combination of low ingested doses and high (or unknown) metabolism, together with a small or dissipated user group means that understanding the relationship between detection and consumption is very difficult. Analytical methods have to be sufficiently sensitive to detect trace quantities of drug-related material, yet still cover a sufficient mass range to screen for a wide suite of likely targets.

This project expects to fill the current knowledge gap in the detection and identification of these substances in wastewater. This will substantially benefit all nations by aiding the development of early warning drug monitoring systems, providing the rapid deployment of interventions to reduce drug-related harm in local communities and helping advise law and government agencies on how to better direct resources.


An international sampling program was carried out over the 2021-22 New Year, with samples from 46 sites in 15 countries (from 5 continents: Oceania, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America providing samples). A total of 18 NPS were found in this campaign. A secondary analysis of these samples was conducted with three ‘new’ NPS found.

A PhD student is developing a new analytical method with approximately 70 NPS, which can be applied to both wastewater and urine samples.

A new sampling campaign was carried out over the 2022-23 New Year, with more than 50 sites sampled across 6 continents and 20 countries. This has expanded from the previous campaign to include sites in Nigeria, Germany, the United Kingdom, and more sites in Australia and Brazil.

Through targeted international wastewater sampling, this project has provided spatial and temporal trends in the use of new psychoactive substances. These data have also helped to show the impact of interventions (both known (i.e. legislative controls) and unknown (i.e. COVID-19 pandemic)).

Research Outputs

Bade, R., van Herwerden, D., Rousis, N., Adhikari, S., Allen, D., Baduel, C., Bijlsma, L., Boogaerts, T., Burgard, D., Chappell, A. and Driver, E.M., 2024. Workflow to facilitate the detection of new psychoactive substances and drugs of abuse in influent urban wastewater. Journal of Hazardous Materials469, p.133955.

Puljević, C., Tscharke, B., Wessel, E.L., Francis, C., Verhagen, R., O'Brien, J.W., Bade, R., Nadarajan, D., Measham, F., Stowe, M.J. and Piatkowski, T., 2024. Characterising differences between self-reported and wastewater-identified drug use at two consecutive years of an Australian music festival. Science of The Total Environment, p.170934.

Bade, R., Nadarajan, D., Driver, E.M., Halden, R.U., Gerber, C., Krotulski, A., Hall, W. and Mueller, J.F., 2024. Wastewater-based monitoring of the nitazene analogues: First detection of protonitazene in wastewater. Science of The Total Environment, p.170781.

Jaunay, E.L., Bade, R., Paxton, K.R., Nadarajan, D., Barry, D.C., Zhai, Y., Tscharke, B.J., O'Brien, J.W., Mueller, J., White, J.M. and Simpson, B.S., 2024. Monitoring the use of novel psychoactive substances in Australia by wastewater-based epidemiology. Science of The Total Environment919, p.170473.

Bade, R. and Hall, W., 2024. The use of wastewater based epidemiology to detect synthetic opioids in the community. bmj384.

Rousis, N., Bade, R., Romero-Sánchez, I., Mueller, J.F., Thomaidis, N.S., Thomas, K.V. and Gracia-Lor, E., 2023. Festivals following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions: prevalence of new psychoactive substances and illicit drugs. Environment international178, p.108075.

Bade, R., Rousis, N., Adhikari, S., Baduel, C., Bijlsma, L., Bizani, E., Boogaerts, T., Burgard, D.A., Castiglioni, S., Chappell, A. and Covaci, A., 2023. Three years of wastewater surveillance for new psychoactive substances from 16 countries. Water Research X19, p.100179.

Bade, R., Eaglesham, G., Shimko, K.M. and Mueller, J., 2023. Quantification of new psychoactive substances in Australian wastewater utilising direct injection liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry. Talanta251, p.123767.

Ahmed, F., O’Brien, J.W., Keshaviah, A., Hall, W.D., Bade, R., Tscharke, B., Matus, M., Mueller, J.F., Thomas, K.V. and Burgard, D.A., 2023. Wastewater-based monitoring could help guide responses to the USA opioid epidemic. Nature Water, pp.1-4.

Rousis, N.I., Li, Z., Bade, R., McLachlan, M.S., Mueller, J.F., O'Brien, J.W., Samanipour, S., Tscharke, B.J., Thomaidis, N.S. and Thomas, K.V., 2022. Socioeconomic status and public health in Australia: A wastewater-based study. Environment International167, p.107436.

Othman, A.A., Simpson, B.S., Jaunay, E.L., White, J.M., Bade, R. and Gerber, C., 2022. A method for improved detection of 8-isoprostaglandin F2α/β and benzodiazepines in wastewater. Science of The Total Environment851, p.158061.

Conference Abstracts

Bade, R., Rousis, N., Adhikari, S., Baduel, C., Bijlsma, L., Bizani, E., Boogaerts, T., Burgard, D., Castiglioni, S., Chappell, A., Covaci, A., Driver, E.M., Fabriz Sodre, F., Fatta-Kassinos, D., Galani, A., Gerber, C., Gracia-Lor, E., Gracia-Marin, E., Halden, R.U., Heath, E., Hernandez, F., Jaunay, E., Yin Lai, F., Lee, H., Laimou-Geraniou, M., Oh, J., Olafsdottir, K., Phung, K., Pineda Casto, M., Psichoudaki, M., Shao, X., Salgueiro-Gonzalez, N., Silva Feitosa, R., Silvino Gomes, C., Subedi, B., Love, A.S.C., Thomaidis, N., Tran, D., van Nuijs, A., Verovsek, T., Wang, D., White, J.M., Yargeau, V., Zuccato, E. & Mueller, J. Trends from three years of wastewater monitoring for new psychoactive substances in 16 countries, Testing the Waters 6, Oxford, United Kingdom, 26-27 June 2023.

Bade, R. Trends in the international use of novel psychoactive substances through wastewater analysis. IX International Conference on Novel Psychoactive Substances, Panama City, Panama, 26 October 2022.  

Bade, R., Gerber, C., Consortium, N.P.S., Mueller, J. Wastewater analysis as a means to distinguish trends in international use of new psychoactive substances. 18th Annual Workshop on Emerging High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry (HRMS) and LC-MS/MS Applications in Environmental Analysis and Food Safety, Barcelona, Spain, 10 October 2022.

Bade, R., White, J.M., Ghetia, M., Adiraju, S., Adhikari, S., Baz-Lomba, J.A, Been, F., Bijlsma, L., Boorgaerts, T., Burgard, D.A., Castiglioni, S., Celma, A., Chappell, A., Covaci, A., Emke, E., Halden R.U., Van Nuijs, A.L.N., Oh, J.E., Park, S., Pineda Castro, M.A., Salgueiro-Gonzalez, N., Subedi, B., Steenbeek, R., Wang, D., Yargeau, V., Zuccato, E., Gerber, C. Monitoring Novel Psychoactive Substances in 12 countries over the New Year period: Case Studies over 2019-20 and 2020-21. Forensic And Clinical Toxicology Association (FACTA), Brisbane, Australia, 12 April 2022.

Invited Presentations

Bade, R. Exploring Wastewater for the Use of New Psychoactive Substances. ANZFSS, Queensland Branch, 24 April 2024.

Bade, R. Detection of new psychoactive substances in wastewater. University of Tasmania, 21 March 2024.

Bade, R. NPS in Wastewater Update. Forensic Sciences, Queensland, 8 August 2023.

Bade, R. Monitoring New Psychoactive Substances in Wastewater – Methods and Spatiotemporal International Trends. Imperial College London, 29 June 2023.

Bade, R. Monitoring the use of new psychoactive substances using wastewater analysis. Prompt Response Network Update, 22 February 2023. 

Bade, R. The Power of Wastewater analysis for the detection of New Psychoactive Substances. QAEHS Research Forum, Queensland Health, 5 December 2022.

Bade, R. Trends in the use of new psychoactive substances using wastewater analysis. NDARC Webinar Series, 10 November 2022.

Bade, R. New Psychoactive Substances: challenges surrounding their detection and surveillance in wastewater. International Association of Environmental Analytical Chemistry Seminar, 1 June 2022.

Bade, R. The detection and monitoring of new psychoactive substances in wastewater. Pathology Queensland Seminar, The Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, 5 May 2022.

Bade, R. Facilitating the detection of new psychoactive substances in wastewater. ECR Seminar, The University of Sydney, 28 March 2022.

  • 2024 Olaf Drummer Education Award, Forensic and Clinical Toxicology Association (FACTA), Hobart, Tasmania
  • 2023 Excellence in SPE Award (UCT), Awarded at Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT), Colorado, USA
  • 2021 Early Career Research Excellence Award, Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences, The University of Queensland



    Project members

    Dr Richard Bade

    Senior Research Fellow

    Dhaya Nadarajan

    PhD Candidate