May 18, 2024

Bath Salts Epidemic: Pentylone Use Surges by 75%, Experts Warn

Bath Salts Epidemic: Pentylone Use Surges By 75%, Experts WarnCrystal Meth - Bath Salts Epidemic: Pentylone Use Surges By 75%, Experts Warn

Recent research from the University of South Australia shows a 75% increase in detections of the synthetic stimulant pentylone, indicating a rise in its usage across Australia. The study highlights the dangers of novel psychoactive substances and the value of wastewater monitoring in identifying and mitigating the risks associated with illicit drug trends. Credit: Radspunk, CC BY-SA 4.0

As law enforcement intensifies efforts against illegal substances, experts from the University of South Australia have raised concerns about the consumption of the synthetic stimulant pentylone. Recent studies reveal a 75% surge in its detection throughout Australia.

In a new study as part of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, researchers identified 20 different novel psychoactive substances (NPS) in wastewater treatment plants across Australia (between Feb 22-23) with pentylone detected at every collection site. Other NPS, eutylone, and phenibut were also commonly detected.

Pentylone, (street name ‘bath salts’), is a highly potent and unpredictable synthetic cathinone*, producing similar effects to stimulants such as methamphetamine or MDMA. This group of drugs produces stronger effects that wear off faster, leading to more frequent use.

Users of novel psychoactive substances are at risk due to limited information about the toxicity and unpredictable effects of these compounds.

In 2022 Australia had 1693 drug-induced deaths (64% males and 36% females).

Research Insights and Findings

UniSA researcher, Dr Emma Jaunay says any changes to drug levels in wastewater can provide an early warning for NPS circulating in the illicit drug market.

“Novel psychoactive substances are drugs that have been designed to mimic established illicit drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine, MDMA and LSD,” Dr Jaunay says. “These types of drugs are unregulated and untested, and by nature, their chemical composition is constantly changing to stay ahead of the law. When they first appear, they’re commonly called ‘legal highs’ because they are not yet classed as controlled or prohibited substances. In this study, we tested wastewater from across Australia to determine what type of NPS was being used across the year. Of the 59 different NPS we looked for, 20 were found in wastewater across the study ­­– some occasionally, while others were at every site for multiple collections.

She continues, “The most common group of NPS detected were synthetic cathinones, also known as ‘bath salts’, which mimic the effect of stimulant drugs like MDMA. Specifically, we detected an increase in pentylone across Australia, with frequencies rising from 25% in April in 2022 to 100% across all states and territories by December of that same year. Interestingly, we found pentylone displaced eutylone, which highlights the constantly evolving nature of NPS, and how quickly drug preferences change.”

This study is unique in that the sample intentionally avoided special events and holiday periods to determine more typical trends across the year.

“Changes to drug levels present in wastewater can provide early signals about drug use and raise awareness of new drugs with harm potential,” Dr Jaunay says. “Routine monitoring provides valuable insights about illicit drugs and their ‘legal’ counterparts before overdoses and fatalities occur.”

Reference: “Monitoring the use of novel psychoactive substances in Australia by wastewater-based epidemiology” by Emma L. Jaunay, Richard Bade, Kara R. Paxton, Dhayaalini Nadarajan, Daniel C. Barry, Yuze Zhai, Benjamin J. Tscharke, Jake W. O’Brien, Jochen Mueller, Jason M. White, Bradley S. Simpson and Cobus Gerber, 28 January 2024, Science of The Total Environment.
DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.170473