Wastewater-based epidemiology (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). The goal of EUSEME is to further develop WBE as an early warning system to monitor emerging drug problems across Europe.
Europe is an important market for illicit drugs and the consumption of these substances is linked to high human and social costs, which affect public health and safety, the environment as well as labour productivity. The EU Drugs Strategy 2013-2020 has among its objectives to contribute to ‘… a better dissemination of monitoring, research and evaluation results and a better understanding of all aspects of the drugs phenomenon and of the impact of interventions in order to provide sound and comprehensive evidence-base for policies and actions.’ EUSEME (www.euseme.eu) aims to provide insights into new trends and potential threats.
Goal and planned activities
The goal of EUSEME is to further develop WBE as an early warning system to monitor emerging drug problems across Europe. First, qualitative and quantitative information about the consumption of NPS and opioids across Europe will be obtained through the development of analytical methods and retrospective analysis of wastewater and urine samples. Second, a thorough literature review will be carried out to identify additional relevant biomarkers of crack cocaine use. Analytical methods will be developed and integrated with existing ones, to include these new biomarkers and monitor consumption of crack cocaine through WBE. Third, a thorough investigation of the sorption of cannabis biomarkers on suspended matter present in wastewater will be carried out. Outcomes will be used to establish a detailed protocol, providing a robust and harmonised approach to monitor consumption of cannabis through WBE. Finally, two broad sampling campaigns aimed at covering all of Europe will be carried out, focussing on the newly identified biomarkers and on conventional drugs. These campaigns will provide unique insights about emerging threats linked to the use of NPS, opioids, crack cocaine and cannabis, as well as an updated view of the situation regarding the consumption of conventional illicit drugs in Europe. By implementing a practical application of drug-related research, EUSEME seeks to provide support to the activities of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), national governments and stakeholders, law enforcement, as well as national focal points.
Data about new biomarkers will provide a unique overview of cannabis consumption, as well as emerging threats linked to the consumption of NPS, illicit and prescription opioids, and crack cocaine. The generated data will be relevant to individual EU member states and the European Commission to assess the need for both immediate and future measures. Furthermore, the exchange of data between these countries and the dissemination of the results through the EMCDDA and the SCORE network (www.score-network.eu) will benefit cross-border cooperation between EU member states and beyond.