Study tracks illicit drug use through Europe's sewage system

May 28, 2014 by Vicky Just, University of Bath
Study tracks illicit drug use through Europe’s sewage system
Sewage epidemiology is a powerful tool for monitoring public health

(Medical Xpress)—The largest multi-city study using sewage to monitor drug usage across Europe has been published today in the scientific journal Addiction.

Scientists from the University of Bath are part of the Europe-wide SCORE network (Sewage analysis CORE group) that analysed from over 40 European cities during a one-week period over consecutive years (2011-13) to explore how the -taking habits of these populations has changed.

Its are taken up in the European Drug Report 2014, launched by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs & Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) this week, as well as in an online interactive analysis by the agency dedicated to the issue (Perspectives on drugs).

From London to Nicosia and Stockholm to Lisbon, the study analysed daily waste water samples from waste water treatment plants over a one-week period in April 2012 and in March 2013. In 2012, the study involved 23 cities in 11 countries, while in 2013 it was broadened to 42 cities in 21 countries. Data from a 2011 study (19 cities, 11 countries) were used for comparison.

The scientists used highly sensitive mass spectroscopy techniques to look for tiny traces of biomarkers for cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and cannabis in waste water from approximately 8 million people.

The results provide a valuable snapshot of the drug flow through the cities involved, revealing marked regional variations in drug use patterns.

Traces of cocaine, for example, were higher in western and some southern cities but lower in northern and eastern cities. Use of amphetamine, while relatively evenly distributed, showed the highest levels in the north and northwest of Europe. 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.

Methamphetamine use, generally low and traditionally concentrated in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, now appears to be present in the east of Germany and northern Europe.

Lead investigator from the University of Bath, Dr Barbara Kasprzyk-Horden, said: "Analysing sewage for estimating drug use has huge potential for monitoring the health of populations. Traditional epidemiological methods rely on surveys, which are time consuming, expensive and can be inaccurate due to self-reporting bias.

"However waste water profiling is non-intrusive and can show changes in local populations in real time, with a large sample size and can be used alongside existing epidemiology methods to give important information on drug use and markets across Europe.

"This tool is exciting because it could also be used to identify the use of new dangerous 'legal highs' that have not yet been banned.

"It also has potential to be used to monitor biomarkers for diseases such as cancer or trace the spread of flu epidemics in real time and could be a really powerful tool for improving public health."

Explore further: Prescription, synthetic drug abuse worry EU watchdog

More information: Ort, C., van Nuijs, A. L. N., Berset, J.-D., Bijlsma, L., Castiglioni, S., Covaci, A., de Voogt, P., Emke, E., Fatta-Kassinos, D., Griffiths, P., Hernández, F., González-Mariño, I., Grabic, R., Kasprzyk-Hordern, B., Mastroianni, N., Meierjohann, A., Nefau, T., Östman, M., Pico, Y., Racamonde, I., Reid, M., Slobodnik, J., Terzic, S., Thomaidis, N. and Thomas, K. V. (2014), "Spatial differences and temporal changes in illicit drug use in Europe quantified by wastewater analysis." Addiction. doi: 10.1111/add.12570

Related Stories

Prescription, synthetic drug abuse worry EU watchdog

May 27, 2014
While heroin use in Europe is declining, ever more people are getting their fix from prescription drugs, including some used to treat heroin addiction, a report said Tuesday.

Wastewater reveals drug consumption picture

May 27, 2014
In 2013, wastewater samples from European cities were tested for drug traces for the third time. Basel, Berne, Geneva, St. Gallen and Zurich were among the 42 cities which took part in the study. Over the course of a week, ...

Unique scientific collaboration reveals hard facts on European drug use

July 26, 2012
Surveys of drug use form an important basis for the development of effective drug policies, and also for measuring the effectiveness of existing policies. For the first time in history, scientists have now made direct comparisons ...

Cocaine use in Swiss cities among highest in Europe: report

August 6, 2012
Cocaine use in several Swiss cities is among the highest in Europe, researchers said on Monday.

Drug residues in Swedish sewage water

December 17, 2013
Chemists at Umeå University in Sweden have been able to trace narcotics substances and prescription drugs in measurements of wastewater from 33 Swedish sewage treatment plants. Cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine, ...

Synthetic drug use rapidly rising in Europe, report finds

May 28, 2013
New synthetic psychoactive substances are making their way into Europe where the Internet is becoming a big challenge in the fight against illicit drugs, the continent's drug agency warned Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Marijuana use may not aid patients in opioid addiction treatment

December 4, 2017
Many patients who are being treated for opioid addiction in a medication-assisted treatment clinic use marijuana to help manage their pain and mood symptoms.

For opiate addiction, study finds drug-assisted treatment is more effective than detox

November 23, 2017
Say you're a publicly insured Californian with an addiction to heroin, fentanyl or prescription narcotics, and you want to quit.

Study finds medical cannabis is effective at reducing opioid addiction

November 17, 2017
A new study conducted by researchers at The University of New Mexico, involving medical cannabis and prescription opioid use among chronic pain patients, found a distinct connection between having the legal ability to use ...

Insomnia linked to alcohol-use frequency among early adolescents, says new psychology study

November 8, 2017
Insomnia is linked to frequency of alcohol use among early adolescents, according to new Rutgers University–Camden research.

Large declines seen in teen substance abuse, delinquency

October 25, 2017
More than a decade of data indicates teens have become far less likely to abuse alcohol, nicotine and illicit drugs, and they also are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors, such as fighting and stealing, according ...

Trying to get sober? NIH offers tool to help find good care

October 3, 2017
The phone calls come—from fellow scientists and desperate strangers—with a single question for the alcohol chief at the National Institutes of Health: Where can my loved one find good care to get sober?

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.