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Measuring Drug Use Patterns in Queensland Through Wastewater Analysis

NCJ Number
Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice Issue: 442 Dated: June 2012 Pages: 1-8
Jeremy Prichard; Foon Yin Lai; Paul Kirkbride; Raimondo Bruno; Christoph Ort; Steve Carter; Wayne Hall; Coral Gartner; Phong K. Thai; Jochen F. Mueller
Date Published
June 2012
8 pages
This study from the Australian Institute of Criminology attempted to determine drug use patterns in the general population by conducting chemical analyses of sewer water.
Study results on levels of methamphetamine, MDMA, and cocaine found in wastewater in a large city in Queensland showed that increased quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, and ecstasy were detected on Saturdays and Sundays, indicating consumption of these drugs on Friday and Saturday nights; higher levels of cocaine were found in the 2009 sample compared to the 2010 sample, while levels of methamphetamine increased from 2009 to 2010 and levels of MDMA (ecstasy) remained the same; and in both 2009 and 2010, methamphetamine use was 2.9-8.1 times higher than MDMA use and 22-38 times higher than cocaine use. Wastewater analysis is used to provide reliable, objective chemical data on the use of these three drugs in both small and large population groups. This type of analysis avoids the common problems associated with self-reported drug use data and changes in the activities and policies of drug law enforcement agencies that may have a significant effect on drug use patterns. Data for the study were obtained from raw wastewater samples collected at the inlet of a sewage treatment plant over two time periods: November 20 - December 1, 2009 and November 11-25, 2010. Chemical analyses were used to measure the levels of parent drugs and their metabolites in the wastewater samples. These levels and average excretion values were used to back-calculate the estimated total consumption of particular drugs in the population that were found in the wastewater. The study determined that these estimates of drug use are valuable tools for estimating the size of drug markets along with the full estimated cash value of the drugs consumed. Implications for policy are discussed. Tables, figure, and references