While studying wastewater wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, the results can prove interesting. Indeed, the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, which is using wastewater to test for levels of illicit and licit drugs, is unearthing some thought-provoking findings and proving very useful as a high level drug testing tool.
The first report of the program was released on Sunday (26th March 2017) and findings include:
- While illicit substances are a huge concern, they’re not the highest consumed substances found during testing of the wastewater. Alcohol and tobacco easily won that race. Usage levels of both substances were highest in the Northern Territory.
- Methylamphetamine, including the drug ICE, is the highest consumed illicit drug tested across all regions in Australia. Usage is highest in WA, with both Perth and regional Western Australia significantly exceeding national averages. High levels were also detected in regional areas in Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. Hobart and Canberra showed the lowest usage levels nationwide.
- The use of oxycodone and fentanyl, which are used legally by prescription and illicitly, are at concerning levels. Victoria and Queensland regional areas showed higher than average oxycodone usage, while NSW, SA and WA regional areas were highest for fentanyl.
- Cocaine usage levels are also a concern. They are lowest in Northern Territory regional areas and highest in Sydney. Usage in Canberra and Darwin were also high.
- Of the European countries that have conducted similar studies and have comparable data, Australia has the second highest total estimated consumption levels for four common stimulants ((MDMA, cocaine, amphetamine and methylamphetamine). We get the unenviable silver medal for consumption of methylamphetamine.
While using wastewater to conduct drug testing may seem novel, it’s in fact widely used globally and is an accepted method of measuring for drug use within large populations.
The goal of the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program is to “provide leading-edge, coordinated national research and intelligence on illicit drugs and licit drugs”. It’s focusing specifically on methylamphetamines, commonly known as ICE, as well as 12 other substances.
The program was commissioned by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and is being run by the University of Queensland and the University of South Australia.
This report is the first of nine reports that will be produced over the next three years. Fifty-one sites in capital city and regional areas, across all states and territories, are being used for collection and analysis. The program covers approximately 58% of the Australian population, or over 14 million people.