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Monday, January 6, 2014

Societal Drug Use Determined By Wastewater

Wastewater Plant in Edmonton Canada
When people use drugs and alcohol the body processes the substances on a molecular level. The substances are then excreted through the digestive system finding their way into the wastewater of a given area. It is now possible for scientists to determine the scale of drug usage in a given area by evaluating wastewater, according to a new study.

Wastewater measurements were taken on one day in January 2012 from 33 Swedish sewage treatment plants, and were analyzed by chemists at Umeå University. The researchers' findings showed that in half of the locations drugs were found, such as cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine.

While this method has been used before in Sweden and abroad, this is the first time scientists looked at the entire country. Research like this is a variable in estimating drug use in society.

"What is unique about our study is its scope and this is the first time this method has been used to screen the entire country for drugs," says Marcus Ostman, study leader and is a PhD student at the Department of Chemistry at Umeå University. "Previous measurements in Sweden have only applied to single locations and a limited number of substances. In addition, we have developed a faster and more cost-effective measurement to conduct this type of research."

Compared to other European countries, Sweden’s concentrations were generally low. 


"The results were quite expected, but the variations between different places and different parts of Sweden was surprisingly large," says Marcus Ostman. "For instance, some smaller municipalities had fairly high levels of the dangerous drug methamphetamine. Since we measure using a chemical scale, it is no problem to distinguish methamphetamine from amphetamine."  

The study is published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
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