The EMCDDA has recently launched a multicity ‘demonstration project’ to investigate the potential of wastewater analysis as an indicator for estimating community drug use levels. By the end of 2012, the project will have generated comparable data from at least 15 European cities, thanks to an agreed common sampling approach designed to ensure maximum comparability. The project partners met in Lisbon in January to establish a project work plan and key deliverables (1).
By sampling a known source of wastewater — for example, a sewage influent to a wastewater treatment plant — scientists can now obtain estimates of the total quantity of drugs consumed by a community by measuring the levels of illicit drug metabolites excreted in urine (2). This demonstration project will provide comparable information in real time on weekly patterns of use, trends and changing consumption habits in the participating cities.
Wastewater analysis is an emerging science. While its methods do not provide the type of detailed consumption data currently yielded by drug surveys, its ability to provide timely estimates of illicit drug consumption in a given population make it a useful complement to existing methods for studying drug use trends in Europe.
(1) The project is being undertaken by a consortium of researchers from over 10 European countries.
(2) For more, see Thematic page on wastewater analysis