Quantitative assessment of time dependent drug-use trends by the analysis of drugs and related metabolites in raw sewage

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2011 Dec 15;119(3):179-86. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2011.06.007. Epub 2011 Jul 6.


Background: Accurate and timely information on the scale and dynamics of drug consumption is important for assessing the needs of law enforcement and public health services in a community.

Aims: This paper presents a detailed examination of a comprehensive sewage-sampling campaign for the purposes of increasing an understanding of the dynamics of drug-flows in sewage streams, and developing new methodology by which this technique can support traditional drug-use surveys.

Methods: A total of 104 sewage samples were collected from a treatment plant servicing approximately 500000 people and analysed for levels of methamphetamine, cocaine and cocaine metabolites. Careful examination of the kinetics of drug-flow profiles was then performed in order to identify trends or patterns of use within the community.

Results: Results were validated against identical measurements of pharmaceutical reference compounds. Consumption profiles for cocaine and methamphetamine were found to differ in terms of frequency and timing of use. The majority of cocaine consumption occurs during the evening hours and 45% of consumption of this drug occurs in weekend periods. The flow of methamphetamine in the sewage system appears more evenly spread throughout the week.

Conclusions: This result is consistent with both an extended excretion half-life and a pattern of use that is more evenly balanced across all days of the week. Comprehensive investigation in to the scale and kinetics of drug flow in a sewage stream can therefore provide valuable information, not only in terms of the volume of drug consumed, but also in terms of identifying differing usage-patterns over daily and weekly time-scales.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / analysis*
  • Illicit Drugs / metabolism
  • Prescription Drugs / analysis*
  • Prescription Drugs / metabolism
  • Sewage / analysis*
  • Solid Phase Extraction / methods
  • Solid Phase Extraction / standards
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods
  • Substance Abuse Detection / standards
  • Time Factors
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Sewage
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical