Monitoring emerging drug problems in Europe

European project on Wastewater-Based Epidemiology EUSEME started

The partners of the EUSEME project came together on 19 and 20 November for the kick-off meetings. Researchers from KWR, the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri in Milan, the University of Antwerp and the Universitiy Jaume I in Castellón de la Plana came together for a two-day meeting. Delegates from the European Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the University of Bath, who are members of the Scientific Advisory Committee of EUSEME, also participated in the meeting and contributed their expertise.

The goal of EUSEME is to further develop Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (WBE) as an early warning system to monitor emerging drug problems across Europe. WBE is now an established approach in monitoring the consumption of a selection of illicit drugs. However, WBE can also become a valuable source of information about new drug-related threats, such as consumption of new psychoactive substances (NPS), licit and illicit opioids, as well as new trends in drug use (e.g., crack cocaine and cannabis). EUSEME is a European project funded by the European Union’s Justice Programme’s Drugs Policy Initiatives and will focus on four specific topics (work packages):

Topics of the project

  1. Qualitative and quantitative analysis of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in Europe, with a focus on synthetic and prescriptions opioids. The objective is to strengthen the current knowledge about the extent of new psychoactive substances (NPS) use in the general population and within specific cohorts (i.e., festivals attendees), with a particular emphasis on illicit and prescription synthetic opioids in Europe.
  2. Investigate the consumption of crack cocaine by measuring specific biomarkers in urban wastewater. The objective consists in developing a methodology which, through the analysis of specific biomarkers in wastewater, allows the monitoring of crack cocaine consumption.
  3. Refine the use of wastewater-based epidemiology to monitor cannabis consumption. In this case, the objective is to quantify the sorption of different biomarkers specific to cannabis, through the analysis of both the liquid phase and particulate matter in wastewater. The data obtained will allow the refinement of estimates of cannabis consumption through wastewater analysis.
  4. Europe-wide monitoring of illicit drug use. The overarching objective of this last topic is to obtain timely information on the actual use of illicit drugs on a European scale, with a specific focus on different spatial resolutions (between and within countries). This monitoring campaign is expected to provide unique Europe-wide data on relevant topics related to illicit drug use, i.e., consumption of NPS, therapeutic opioids, crack cocaine and cannabis.

KWR coordinates and researches

KWR will be responsible for the coordination of the project and, furthermore, will have a leading role in the development and implementation of the methods needed to monitor the consumption of crack cocaine through wastewater analysis. Our activities will not be limited to this, however, since we will be actively involved in all of the project’s other tasks, including the analysis of opioids and cannabis, as well as the Europe-wide monitoring of the consumption of these substances.

Important line of research

Through a decade of pioneering research in the field of WBE, and its collaboration with the Sewage Analysis Core group Europe (SCORE), KWR has acquired extensive knowledge in the implementation of WBE to monitor illicit drug use. This project is in line with previous projects (e.g., WATCH) and ongoing research (e.g., drug dumping).