What are Europeans peeing?

Wastewater analysis has demonstrated its utility over the last decade as an important new drug monitoring tool and a complement to more established monitoring methods. By delivering almost real-time data on drug use patterns, both geographically and over time, this novel approach can offer a valuable snapshot of drug use in key cities in Europe and an insight into emerging changes in behaviour. It is also showing promise in new areas, such as identifying, and estimating the use of, new psychoactive substances and assessing the outcome of interventions targeting drug supply. As a method, wastewater analysis has moved from being an experimental technique to being an important addition in our epidemiological toolkit.

That’s a quote from Alexis Goosdeel, director of the European Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (ECDDA). Basically, when you take drugs you pee drugs, and when you pee drugs they show up in urban wastewater stream. The ECDDA work hit the headlines (again) yesterday in this BBC article, suggesting that European drug use is on the rise. After digging into the actual data I get the impression that the conclusion is a little overstated. There’s a lot of uncertainty, and the trends appear in just over half of cities examined. Nonetheless, using the sewer system to monitor a city’s drug use must be one of neatest and most unexpected innovations to come out of water science in the last decade.