Sewage surveillance of drug use

Drug use is a recognised societal problem. It is damaging to public health and has negative (undermining) consequences for public security and the environment. An effective drug policy needs to be founded on reliable drug-use and -dealing information. Priorities can only be set and policy formulated if a clear picture of the current situation and trends is available.

Sewage as a mirror of the society

KWR has researched drug residuals in sewage water on commissions from municipalities and other public organisations ever since 2010. Such sewage surveillance is also known as wastewater-based epidemiology. Sewage is a mirror of society: it contains all sorts of chemical and biological traces that provide relevant information about the lifestyle and health of a population. KWR has already investigated sewage water at more than 40 locations in the Netherlands for residuals of illicit drugs.

Proven methods, valuable information

Sampling over a period of seven consecutive days, as KWR does, is important as a means of determining variations over the course of the week, and detecting any possible anomalies related to discharges of drug waste. The Laboratory for Materials Research and Chemical Analysis at KWR uses highly advanced equipment for the regular measurement of the top-5 Opium Law substances. These are cocaine (coke), MDMA (XTC), amphetamine (speed), methamphetamine (crystal meth) and cannabis (weed/hash). In addition, the use of a wide spectrum of other legal and illicit substances, such as 3-MMC/4-MMC (poes/miauw miauw), ketamine, heroin, alcohol and various other new psychoactive substances (NPS) can be measured.

A picture of drug use

Sewage surveillance offers a unique, quantitative picture of the use of various types of drugs in the studied population. In collaboration with experts for example from the Trimbos Institute, a picture can also be obtained of user groups and the sewage surveillance measurement results can be effectively interpreted.

Sewage surveillance of drug use offers specific information for enforcement, and the possibility of statistically underpinning policy, and of focussing information and prevention on the most relevant drug types. Periodic surveillance can also reveal trends and offer insight into the impact of policy.

KWR participates in the SCORE (Sewage Analysis Core Group Europe) network. All participants in this network take samples at a wastewater treatment plant, in the same manner over seven consecutive days. Every year, KWR participates in the proficiency tests organised by SCORE, which make possible international comparisons of the outcomes. KWR also collaborates with the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). In this way, KWR ensures the quality of the analysis in the sewage surveillance work.