An analysis of a city’s sewer water can reveal a lot of information about its inhabitants – including its drug use.
A new report from the EU’s EMCDDA looked at the sewer water in 56 cities in 19 European countries to analyze the pattern of drug use. The study primarily focused on concentrations of cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy.
Researchers used this data along with the flow of sewer water and population data to get some insight into the population’s drug habits.
One unsurprising pattern researchers found was that drug use increased sharply over the weekend and declined on Monday. The only exception was amphetamine, which was found to be distributed evenly over the week.
The findings also showed that Barcelona, Spain has the highest rate of cocaine use. Zurich, Switzerland and Antwerp, Belgium followed closely behind.
Cocaine use appears to be highest in southern and western European cities, particularly the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and Spain.
Amsterdam is the ecstasy capital. The Netherlands and Belgium both topped the charts for the drug. But the findings showed a sharp increase in ecstasy use across the board in Europe.
Amphetamine is the drug of choice in Germany. More than half of the cities with the top 10 highest users of the drug were in Germany.
Methamphetamine use was relatively low across Europe, with Slovakia and the Czech Republic having the highest levels. However, the drug appears to be increasing in popularity in Finland, Cyprus, Germany, and Norway.
While the analysis provides some useful insight into drug use, it does have its limitations. As the EMCDDA notes, the test cannot provide information on the frequency of use, prevalence, purity of the drugs or the main classes of users. The agency also notes that the drugs may not have necessarily been consumed by humans and could be a by-product of manufacturing.
Wastewater analysis cannot detect certain drugs, like marijuana, although they are working on changing this in the future.
The data found may help cities develop drug rehabilitation programs that help addicts get the help they need.
Programs, like those in Lisbon, Portugal, attempt to rehabilitate drug users early on. They have outreach teams in every health district that visit addicts on a daily basis to learn their stories and needs.
Mobile methadone vans supply thousands of users with the substance on a daily basis. The vans are stationed in areas where addicts live and work, making it easy for them to access the substance.
Methadone is an important tool in helping addicts overcome their addiction to heroin. It satisfies the cravings without producing a high.
Lisbon was once the drug capital of Europe. In 1999, drug use was rampant. Approximately one percent of the population was reportedly addicted to drugs. Hundreds of people died every day.
Today, drug addiction is treated as a medical problem – not a criminal problem. The focus shifted to treatment, harm reduction and rehabilitation.
Ten years later, the number of addicts in the country has halved. Overdose deaths have dropped to 30 per year. The EU’s drug-monitoring agency says the drug mortality rate in Portugal is now four times lower than the European average.