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This article is the author’s final published version in International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Volume 23, Issue 23, December 2022 Article number 14619.

The published version is available at Copyright © Di Trana et al.


Adulteration is a well-known practice of drug manufacturers at different stages of drug production. The intentional addition of active ingredients to adulterate the primary drug may enhance or mask pharmacological effects or may produce more potent drugs to increase the number of available doses and the dealer's profit. Adulterants found in different drugs change over time in response to different factors. A systematic literature search in PubMed and Scopus databases and official international organizations' websites according to PRISMA guidelines was performed. A total of 724 studies were initially screened, with 145 articles from PubMed and 462 from Scopus excluded according to the criteria described in the Method Section. The remaining 117 records were further assessed for eligibility to exclude articles without sufficient data. Finally, 79 studies were classified as "non-biological" (n = 35) or "biological" (n = 35 case reports; n = 9 case series) according to the samples investigated. Although the seized samples analyses revealed the presence of well-established adulterants such as levamisole for cocaine or paracetamol/acetaminophen for heroin, the reported data disclosed new adulteration practices, such as the use of NPS as cutting agents for classic drugs of abuse and other NPS. For example, heroin adulterated with synthetic cannabinoids or cocaine adulterated with fentanyl/fentalogues raised particular concern. Notably, adulterants play a role in some adverse effects commonly associated with the primary drug, such as levamisole-adulterated cocaine that may induce vasculitis via an autoimmune process. It is essential to constantly monitor adulterants due to their changing availability that may threaten drug consumers' health.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.