Wastewater analysis 2015
The findings of the largest European project to date in the emerging science of wastewater analysis have recently been published. The project analysed wastewater in over 50 European cities and towns to explore the drug-taking habits of those who live in them. The results provide a valuable snapshot of the drug flow through the cities involved, revealing marked geographical variations.
New findings of the largest European study on illicit drugs in wastewater analysis was published 4th of June by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in Lisbon as part of the EMCDDA European Drug Report (EDR) 2015. The report presents the latest data on cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and cannabis levels obtained in wastewater of some 50 European, Canadian and Australian cities measured by the European SCORE network. Analysis of illicit drugs in wastewater can be used to explore the drug-taking habits of those living or working in these cities.
The purpose of the SCORE study was to assess geographical differences and temporal changes in illicit drug use in metropolitan settings across the region. It is the second, and most extensive, WWA application to date, covering multiple countries, over consecutive years (2011–14) and obtained according to a fixed protocol.
Wastewater analysis is a rapidly developing and novel scientific discipline with the potential for monitoring near-real-time population-level trends in illicit drug use. By sampling a known source of wastewater, such as a sewage influent to a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), scientists can now estimate the quantity of drugs used in a community by measuring the levels of illicit drugs and their metabolites excreted in urine.
From London to Nicosia and Stockholm to Lisbon, the study analysed daily wastewater samples in the catchment areas of WWTPs over a one-week period in April 2014. The results were compared to data collected in the years 2011-2013. Wastewater from approximately 29 million people was analysed for traces of five illicit drugs: amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine.
The WWA results provide a valuable snapshot of the drug flow through the cities involved, revealing marked regional variations in drug use patterns. Trace of cocaine, for example, were higher in western and some southern European cities but lower in northern and eastern cities. Use of ecstasy revealed that The Netherlands, Norway, UK, Denmark and Australia showed the highest levels. Use of amphetamine, while relatively evenly distributed, showed the highest levels in the north and northwest of Europe. Methamphetamine use, generally low and traditionally concentrated in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Scandinavia, also appears to be substantial in Australia. And when weekly patterns of drug use were examined, cocaine and ecstasy levels rose sharply at weekends in most cities, while methamphetamine and cannabis use appeared to be more evenly distributed throughout the week.
The EMCDDA EDR 2014 concluded that ‘Wastewater analysis provides the possibility to collect and report measurements more quickly and regularly than is the current norm for national surveys’. The EDR 2015 shows that WWA indeed serves as a complement to other European drug surveillance methods, with the clear potential to shed extra light on drug use trends in Europe, including the use of new psychoactive substances.