Sewage Analysis CORe group Europe (SCORE)
SCORE was established in 2010 to bring together research groups working on illicit drug analysis in sewage. The initial goal of the group was to collaborate on international studies comparing illicit drug use between major cities and evaluate the different analytical procedures being used in different labs.
In December 2010, a group of like-minded researchers met in Dublin to discuss the possibility of performing a collaborative, Europe-wide study on the analysis of sewage for estimating the use of illicit drugs on a European scale.
It was clear that to perform a comparative study, certain aspects of the approach would have to be strictly controlled since different laboratories would be doing the analyses, using their own in-house developed analytical methods. Furthermore, we would be reliant on existing automated sampling equipment at the WWTP inlet, and there is no EU standard sewer design, all being quite different.
To overcome all this, a best-practice consensus document (available upon request) and an analytical intercalibration study was agreed, and all of the sewer networks and sampling systems were characterized by the use of a questionnaire devised by the group’s sewer expert. In 2011, intercalibration showed that the analytical data could be safely compared, with sampling and sewer differences not likely to result in major uncertainties. The approach was thereafter simultaneously applied in 19 European cities, making it possible to directly compare illicit drug loads in Europe over a 1-week period (5).
Our main findings from 2011 were distinct temporal and spatial patterns in drug use across Europe.
Cocaine use was higher in Western and Central Europe and lower in Northern and Eastern Europe. The total consumption for Europe as a whole is extrapolated to 356 kilos daily, which would account for approximately 10 – 15 % of the global supply of cocaine (as estimated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime).
High per capita ecstasy loads were measured in Dutch cities, as well as in Antwerp and London. In general, cocaine and ecstasy loads were significantly elevated during the weekend compared to weekdays.
Per capita loads of methamphetamine were highest in Helsinki, Turku, Oslo and Budweis, while per capita loads of cannabis were similar throughout Europe.
Additional studies have been performed in 2012 and 2013 with increasing number of cities (25 and 50 respectively) and repetitive intercalibration exercises. The results from 2012 are under review and will hopefully be published in the summer of 2013.
The group’s activities are coordinated by the SCORE group made up of Sara Castiglioni (Mario Negri Institute), Alexander van Nuijs, Adrian Covaci (University of Antwerp), Erik Emke, Pim De Voogt (KWR), Lubertus Bijlsma, Félix Hernández (University Jaume I), Christoph Ort (Eawag), Barbara Kasprykz-Horden (University of Bath), Malcolm Reid and Kevin Thomas (NIVA).
Coordinating such transnational and multidisciplinary research action is not a trivial task, especially without direct funding. All the analyses are performed in-kind by the individual partners; proof of the collaborative spirit of all the research groups involved and must be commended. Small contributions to host workshops and intercalibrations have been provided by the Research Council of Norway and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
As the responsible European Agency for reporting factual information on illicit drugs it has been important for SCORE to work closely with them to gain acceptance of the technique and start to work closely with the epidemiologists whom are responsible for estimating the scale of Europe’s drug problem.
In December 2012, the EMCDDA in Lisbon hosted three illicit drug related meetings, bringing us closer together. In May 2013, the EMCDDA hosted the first international multidisciplinary conference on detecting illicit drugs in wastewater: Testing the waters, bringing together international experts working in relevant fields which including drug epidemiology, pharmacokinetics, statistics, forensic science, analytical chemistry and environmental engineering.
What next for illicit drug testing in sewage?
We believe that the main focus of research in the field will be focused towards a better understanding of the uncertainties associated with different aspects of sewage analysis, as well as expanding the suite of drugs, and hopefully areas, where community scale data are required.
The EU Marie Curie Initial Training Network SEWPROF (A new paradigm in drug use and human health risk assessment: Sewage profiling at the community level) will play a key role in develop inter-disciplinary and cross-sectoral research capability for the next generation of scientists working in this newly-emerging field.
The SCORE group will continue to coordinate European, and potentially broader, comparative studies, along with laboratory performance studies whilst liaising with the EMCDDA and other international governmental agencies such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. We certainly believe that measurements in the sewers are an important addition to the methods that exist today for estimating drug prevalence and that one day soon the data will be commonly used alongside questionnaire based approaches.
1. Zuccato E, Chiabrando C, Castiglioni S, Calamari D, Bagnati R, Fanelli R. Estimating community drug abuse by wastewater analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2008 116, 1027-132.
2. Van Nuijs ALN, Castiglioni S, Tarcomnicu I, Postigo C, De Alda ML, Neels H, et al. Illicit drug consumption estimations derived from wastewater analysis: A critical review. Science of The Total Environment. 2011 Sep;409(19):3564–77.
3. Ort C, Lawrence MG, Rieckermann J, Joss A. Sampling for Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) and Illicit Drugs in Wastewater Systems: Are Your Conclusions Valid? A Critical Review. Environmental Science & Technology. 2010 Aug 15;44(16):6024–35.
4. Castiglioni S, Bijlsma L, Covaci A, Emke E, Hernández F, Reid M, et al. Evaluation of Uncertainties Associated with the Determination of Community Drug Use through the Measurement of Sewage Drug Biomarkers. Environmental Science & Technology. 2013 Jan 11;130111145112004.
5. Thomas KV, Bijlsma L, Castiglioni S, Covaci A, Emke E, Grabic R, et al. Comparing illicit drug use in 19 European cities through sewage analysis. Science of The Total Environment. 2012 Aug;432:432–9.