New biomarkers identified to detect the increase in illicit drug use
NPS are drugs designed to mimic the consequences of illegal substances reminiscent of cannabis, cocaine, heroin, "ice," ecstasy, and LSD. The intention of clandestine laboratories to introduce synthetic cannabinoids with different chemical structures is to try to circumvent legislative prohibitions. For the past two years, NPS users made up the third largest proportion of drug users in Singapore, while artificial cannabinoids have dominated the Singapore NPS market for the past four years. As most artificial cannabinoids are extensively metabolized in the body after consumption, they become almost undetectable in urine samples. ADB-BUTINACA is a new synthetic cannabinoid that was first recognized in Europe in 2019 and entered the Singapore drug scene last year. Although there are three existing metabolites of ADB-BUTINACA available as reference standards for routine forensic monitoring, they have been found to be absent or detected at lower concentrations in some urine samples from abusers. This created momentum to identify other potential metabolites that would be used as urinary biomarkers for cannabinoid consumption. As a substitute for the typical and slower method of chemically synthesizing the metabolites of ADB-BUTINACA, Professor Chan and his team launched a modern method to identify the unique metabolites of cannabinoids using the concepts of drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics. The workforce synthesized key metabolites of ADB-BUTINACA using human liver enzymes in the laboratory to investigate their disposition and discover new biomarker metabolites in urine. From their research, 15 ADB-BUTINACA metabolites and their respective biotransformation pathways within the body were identified for the first time using this methodology. Of the 15 new metabolites, the researchers proposed 4 as biomarkers of urinary metabolites attributable to their metabolic stability, including a metabolite whose reference standard is currently in place. A panel comprising one or a combination of these four recently established urinary biomarkers was developed to diagnose ADB-BUTINACA use.
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