Scientists Analyzed Sewage Samples To Understand Illicit Drug Systems

A recently published research in the journal Addiction on October 23 traced the global illicit drug trade system across 37 countries by studying wastewater samples for seven years. 

The team first began their journey in Europe in the year 2011, and traveled across the seas to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S. between 2014 and 2017. They did not stop there and took the project completely international. 

Researchers also collected sewage water residue from South Korea, Israel, Colombia and Martinique during the three-year long second phase of the study. This study's focus was not public events and festivals, during which drug use is generally high, since many studies in the past decade have proven that to be true. 

The goal is not to discredit these past studies but rather use them to make comparisons, as per the new findings, and they were successful in the endeavor too. Before doing that, two aspects were considered to figure out global drug consumption patterns. First, the normal drug load consumed by the population in every city was taken into account. Secondly, their aim was to calculate the combined average drug dosage every day per each global city.  

“Parent substances (amphetamine, methamphetamine and MDMA) and two urinary metabolites (benzoylecgonine for cocaine and THC‐COOH for cannabis) were measured in influent wastewater,” as per the study. Overall, raw wastewater samples from 143 wastewater treatment plants in 120 cities were collected every day for 1 week from 2011 to 2017. 

“Benzoylecgonine was the stimulant metabolite detected at higher loads in southern and western Europe, and amphetamine, MDMA and methamphetamine in East and North–Central Europe. In other continents, methamphetamine showed the highest levels in the United States and Australia and benzoylecgonine in South America,’’ the findings of the extensive research that was co-led by Iria González-Mariño, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Salamanca in Spain, revealed.

“The highest numbers were found in Antwerp (BE), Amsterdam (NL), Zurich (CH), London (GB) and Barcelona (ES), with 43, 33, 28, 28 and 25 combined doses/1000 people/day, respectively,” the researchers stated. “The average community drug use for all the investigated European cities was 13 doses/1000 people/day.”

“It's important we determine the scale of the illicit drug market so that countries can work out the best way to tackle a $100 billion industry, which is contributing to the global burden of disease and affecting the economic development of many countries," Dr. Bade, an analytical chemist at the University of South Australia’s School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences, said in a press release.

Drugs Sample wastewater residues were analyzed in 37 countries to calculate the amount of drugs consumed by the population in each of the 120 cities studied. stevepb/Pixabay