The latest findings from the largest European project in the emerging science of wastewater analysis are presented today by the Europe-wide SCORE group, in association with the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA). The project analysed wastewater in 73 European cities in 20 European countries in March 2018 to explore the drug-taking behaviours of their inhabitants. The 2018 study points to an increase in the detection of amphetamine, cocaine and MDMA in wastewater samples, compared to the 2017 figures.
From Lisbon to Athens and from Copenhagen to Madrid, the study analysed daily wastewater samples in the catchment areas of wastewater treatment plants over a one-week period. Wastewater from approximately 46 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 (see motion graphic for method).
The SCORE group has been conducting annual wastewater monitoring campaigns since 2011.
A total of 33 cities have participated in five or more of the eight campaigns run so far, which allows for time-trend analysis of drug consumption based on wastewater testing.
The 2018 results are released today in ‘Wastewater analysis and drugs — a European multi-city 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 and per drug. New resources available this year include ‘Frequently asked questions’ (FAQs) on wastewater-based epidemiology as well as a motion graphic aimed at those interested in setting up wastewater monitoring activities.
The 2018 findings offer a valuable snapshot of drug use patterns in the cities involved, revealing marked geographical and temporal variations:
In this project, SCORE uses a standard protocol and a common quality-control exercise in all locations, making it possible to directly compare illicit drug loads in Europe over a one-week period over eight consecutive years.
The EMCDDA adopts a multi-indicator approach to drug monitoring on the principle that no single measure can provide a full picture of the drug situation. It views wastewater analysis as a valuable additional tool in its epidemiological toolkit and one which can provide timely information on a wide spectrum of substances.