Leading experts to review global developments in detecting illicit drugs in wastewater

‘Testing the waters’: First International conference on drug wastewater analysis

Leading European and international experts will meet in Lisbon from 6–8 May to review the state of the art of a rapidly-developing scientific discipline known as ‘drug wastewater analysis’. The event, ‘Testing the waters: the first international multidisciplinary conference on illicit drugs and wastewater’, is being organised by the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA), in collaboration with: the EU-funded SEWPROF project; the Italian Mario Negri Institute; and the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (1).

Drug wastewater analysis — also known as ‘drug sewage epidemiology’ or ‘wastewater sampling for drugs’    — is an emerging field with the potential to monitor population-level trends in illicit drug use (2). 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.

Over 100 participants from 20 countries will attend the event and explore the potential of this new technology for: estimating consumption of illicit drugs in the community; assessing the value of drug control interventions; and complementing more conventional methods of monitoring drug use. While drug wastewater analysis does not provide the type of individual consumption data currently yielded by drug surveys (e.g. lifetime, recent, current use), its ability to pinpoint total consumption rates in a given population make it a useful complement to existing methods for studying drug use trends in Europe.

Ahead of the event, EMCDDA Director Wolfgang Götz says: ‘Work in the area of drug wastewater analysis is developing at a vigorous pace. This novel approach to studying illicit drug use in the community appears increasingly promising and could have important implications for how we monitor drug use trends in the future. The possibility that a new technique for estimating illicit drug use might be added to the existing repertoire of research and monitoring methods is an exciting prospect’.

The conference, the first international event to focus solely on this topic, will hear presentations on the latest research findings and technical advances in the field and identify information gaps and future research needs. The results of an EMCDDA project covering 26 European cities (launched in January 2012) will also be presented and discussed by an international consortium of researchers.

Research into wastewater analysis is of increasing interest and relevance worldwide and a multidisplinary approach is essential for its development. For this reason, the conference will combine the varied perspectives of: analytical chemistry, biochemistry, environmental and sewage engineering, forensic science, pharmacokinetics, physiology, spatial epidemiology, statistics and conventional drug epidemiology.  

The conference is not open to the media but experts will be available for comment by telephone via the EMCDDA press office (Tel. 351 211 21 02 40).