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Drugs in wastewater

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Knowing where and when drugs are most commonly used is a valuable insight for Police and other agencies to inform and target the activity.

Combining two of ESR’s expert capabilities in drug forensics and biowastes, ESR was commissioned by Police to test sites in Auckland and Christchurch to allow authorities to map drug-use patterns and provide better data than that achieved through self-reporting or drug arrests.

ESR analysed the wastewater in both cities to determine the amount, type and distribution of illicit drug use. Using a robust sampling protocol and a modified and validated extraction method, ESR tested for methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, alpha PVP (bath salts) and ecstasy (MDMA).

Seven months of sampling (seven consecutive days per month) have produced some interesting results over each seven day period.

Methamphetamine use is relatively constant day to day, suggesting habitual use. MDMA shows very distinct usage spikes at the weekends, suggesting recreational use. These patterns are reasonably consistent each month.

No obvious patterns are emerging yet between months, but it is still early days. It would be expected to take years of monitoring before long term trends emerge.

Meth and MDMA use over a month.

The findings have enabled Police and other agencies, such as Customs, to better understand drug-use patterns in the population and will be used as a baseline for future results.

One good news story has already emerged following very high usage of MDMA in Christchurch. Police and Customs increased resources, targeting MDMA at the airport. Within a few days a shipment was seized.

Waste water analysis is an emerging science and provides a valuable snapshot of the drug flow through cities. It is the first time such as test has been performed in New Zealand by a government agency.