Seminar Series

Sewage Epidemiology: Estimating Community Use of Illicit Drugs by Analyzing Domestic Wastewater


Chris Metcalfe (Visiting Erskine Fellow)


Trent University, Peterborough, Canada

Time & Place

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 12:00:00 NZDT in

All are welcome


The use of illicit drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy, and opioid drugs of abuse (e.g. heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl) is increasing globally. Traditional methods for estimating drug use at national, regional or community levels involve a combination of questionnaires and surveys, police records of drug arrests and seizures, and hospital records of drug overdose cases. However, recent developments in the analysis of illicit drugs and drugs of abuse in municipal wastewater have shown promise as a more rapid, cost-effective and potentially more accurate way to estimate community drug use. With a knowledge of the concentrations of these compounds in untreated wastewater, the usual dose taken by drug users, the excretion rates of the drugs or their metabolites, the flow rates in the wastewater treatment plants and the population served by the treatment plant, community drug use can be calculated. We have applied this technique to the analysis of the use of illicit drugs and drugs of abuse in three Canadian cities that have very different population demographics. I will present data on trends in drug use in these communities, and will also discuss the potential for contamination of drinking water at locations downstream of discharges from wastewater treatment plants.