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      Estimating Community Drug Abuse by Wastewater Analysis


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          The social and medical problems of drug abuse are a matter of increasing global concern. To tackle drug abuse in changing scenarios, international drug agencies need fresh methods to monitor trends and patterns of illicit drug consumption.


          We tested a sewage epidemiology approach, using levels of excreted drug residues in wastewater, to monitor collective use of the major drugs of abuse in near real time.


          Selected drug target residues derived from use of cocaine, opiates, cannabis, and amphetamines were measured by mass spectrometry in wastewater collected at major sewage treatment plants in Milan (Italy), Lugano (Switzerland), and London (United Kingdom). The amounts of drug residues conveyed to the treatment plants, reflecting the amounts collectively excreted with urine, were used to estimate consumption of the active parent drugs.


          Reproducible and characteristic profiles of illicit drug use were obtained in the three cities, thus for the first time quickly revealing changes in local consumption (e.g., cocaine consumption rose significantly on weekends in Milan). Profiles of local drug consumption based on waste-water measurements are in line with national annual prevalence estimates.


          Patterns and trends of drug abuse in local communities can be promptly monitored by this tool, a convenient new complement to more complex, lengthy survey methods. In principle, searching the sewage for excreted compounds relevant to public health issues appears to have the potential to become a convenient source of real-time epidemiologic information.

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            Cocaine in surface waters: a new evidence-based tool to monitor community drug abuse

            Background Cocaine use seems to be increasing in some urban areas worldwide, but it is not straightforward to determine the real extent of this phenomenon. Trends in drug abuse are currently estimated indirectly, mainly by large-scale social, medical, and crime statistics that may be biased or too generic. We thus tested a more direct approach based on 'field' evidence of cocaine use by the general population. Methods Cocaine and its main urinary metabolite (benzoylecgonine, BE) were measured by mass spectrometry in water samples collected from the River Po and urban waste water treatment plants of medium-size Italian cities. Drug concentration, water flow rate, and population at each site were used to estimate local cocaine consumption. Results We showed that cocaine and BE are present, and measurable, in surface waters of populated areas. The largest Italian river, the Po, with a five-million people catchment basin, steadily carried the equivalent of about 4 kg cocaine per day. This would imply an average daily use of at least 27 ± 5 doses (100 mg each) for every 1000 young adults, an estimate that greatly exceeds official national figures. Data from waste water treatment plants serving medium-size Italian cities were consistent with this figure. Conclusion This paper shows for the first time that an illicit drug, cocaine, is present in the aquatic environment, namely untreated urban waste water and a major river. We used environmental cocaine levels for estimating collective consumption of the drug, an approach with the unique potential ability to monitor local drug abuse trends in real time, while preserving the anonymity of individuals. The method tested here – in principle extendable to other drugs of abuse – might be further refined to become a standardized, objective tool for monitoring drug abuse.
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              Screening of human antibiotic substances and determination of weekly mass flows in five sewage treatment plants in Sweden.

              Twelve antibiotic substances for human use, including trimethoprim and representatives of the fluoroquinolone (FQ), sulfonamide (SA), penicillin (PE), cephalosporin (CE), nitroimidazole (NI), tetracycline (TC), and macrolide (MA) groups, were subjected to a screening study at five Swedish sewage treatment plants (STPs) during one week in 2002 and one week in 2003. The analytes were extracted from raw sewage water, final effluent, and sludge by solid-phase extraction (SPE) or liquid-solid extraction (as appropriate) and then identified and quantified by liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry. The mostfrequently detected antibiotics in the matrices considered in this study were norfloxacin, ofloxacin, ciprofloxacin, trimethoprim, sulfamethoxazole, and doxycycline. The other analytes were only detected in a few samples. Analysis of the weekly mass flows through each STP showed that FQs were partly eliminated from the water during sewage water treatment and the highest amounts of these substances were found in sludge. Sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim were mainly found in raw sewage water and final effluent, but these substances had balancing mass flows, indicating that they too can withstand sewage water treatment. The mass flow patterns for doxycycline were more complex, with high amounts occurring in sludge in some cases, suggesting thatthe behavior of this analyte may be more strongly influenced by the treatment process and other variables at individual STPs. The environmental load (the sum of the amounts in the final effluent and sludge) normalized to the number of inhabitants in the catchment area of each investigated STP compared with theoretical predictions based on consumption data (in parentheses) showed good correlations: norfloxacin, 0.8 (0.9); ofloxacin, 0.3 (0.2); ciprofloxacin, 1.3 (3.5); sulfamethoxazole, 0.2 (0.4); trimethoprim, 1.1 (1.0); and doxycycline, 0.7 (0.4) mg per person per week. The results show that reasonably accurate predictions of environmental load of these antibiotics can be time-effectively derived from consumption data without additional measurements.

                Author and article information

                Environ Health Perspect
                Environmental Health Perspectives
                National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
                August 2008
                1 May 2008
                : 116
                : 8
                : 1027-1032
                Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Milano, Italy
                Author notes
                Address correspondence to R. Fanelli, Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Via La Masa 19, 20156 Milano, Italy. Telephone: 39 0239014498. Fax: 39 0239014735. E-mail: fanelli@ 123456marionegri.it

                The authors declare they have no competing financial interests.

                This is an Open Access article: verbatim copying and redistribution of this article are permitted in all media for any purpose, provided this notice is preserved along with the article's original DOI.
                : 26 October 2007
                : 1 May 2008

                Public health
                drug residues,mass spectrometry,illicit drugs,opiates,amphetamines,sewage epidemiology,cocaine,cannabis,urinary metabolites


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