Analysis of sewage samples proves reliable method to monitor illicit substance use

26 July 2012

Analyses of sewage samples from 19 European cities reveal trends in the use of illicit substances across the continent. Results show that Amsterdam has the highest per capita cocaine use in Europe.

Analyses of sewage samples from 19 European cities reveal trends in the use of illicit substances across the continent. Results show that Amsterdam has the highest per capita cocaine use in Europe.

In a joint European research project led by the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) and the Mario Negri Institute in Milan, eleven European research institutes cooperated to study traces of illicit substances in sewage samples from 19 European cities.

Dutch partner in the investigation was KWR Watercycle Research Institute. Lead investigator for the Dutch contribution was Prof. Pim de Voogt who, in addition to his position at KWR, works as Endowed Chair of Chemistry of (emerging) water contaminants at the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics at the University of Amsterdam.

Remarkable trends

In the same week in March 2011, sewage samples from each city were taken and analysed for traces of cocaine, amphetamine, MDMA (XTC), methamphetamine and cannabis originating from urine. Results were normalised to the total number of inhabitants of a city, to correct for the difference in size between the cities studied. The results that were published in ‘Science of the Total Environment’ in July 2012 show several remarkable trends:

  • Cocaine use is higher in Western and Central Europe than in Northern and Southern Europe, with Amsterdam showing the highest per capita use of cocaine.
  • Total European cocaine use is estimated to account for 10-15% of global cocaine use as determined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
  • Together The Netherlands and Belgium show the highest use of MDMA (XTC).
  • MDMA is hardly found in Scandinavian countries, which instead show a peak in amphetamine use.

The researchers conclude that the analysis of sewage samples can be a valuable tool for monitoring the use of illicit substances and thereby help policy makers in the development and testing of effective strategies to control illicit substance abuse.

Published by  IBED