Wastewater analysis of European drug use

13 March 2018

Article: 52/1005

The latest findings from the largest European project in the emerging science of wastewater analysis were presented on 7 March 2018 by the Europe-wide SCORE group, in association with the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). The project analysed wastewater in 56 European cities in 19 European countries in March 2017 to explore the drug-taking behaviours of their inhabitants.

From Berlin to Vilnius and from Helsinki to Barcelona, the study analysed daily wastewater samples in the catchment areas of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) over a one-week period. Wastewater from approximately 43 million people was analysed for traces of four illicit drugs: amphetamine, cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy) and methamphetamine.

Wastewater based epidemiology is a rapidly developing scientific discipline with the potential for monitoring close to 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, 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.

The SCORE group has been conducting annual wastewater monitoring campaigns since 2011. A total of 21 cities have participated in five or more of the seven campaigns run so far, which allows for time-trend analysis of drug consumption based on wastewater testing.

The 2017 results have been published in ‘Wastewater analysis and drugs - a European multicity study’, an updated edition in the EMCDDA Perspectives on Drugs (POD) series. The POD includes an innovative interactive map and a chart-based tool allowing the user to look at geographical and temporal patterns and to zoom in on results per city. The findings offer a valuable snapshot of the drug situation in the cities involved, revealing marked regional variations in drug use patterns.

Source: EMCDDA, 7 March 2018