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Sewage water reveals a three-fold increase in drug consumption in Europe

A study prepared by the European Center for Drug Control shows a geographically diverse picture of drug abuse by analyzing wastewater from various European cities. Substance use in Europe shows different patterns depending on the region, indicating that drug consumption has increased threefold.

The Spanish newspaper, "Neutral", indicated that the project is exploring 82 cities in Europe to analyze sewage water and explore drug abuse habits of those who live in the region. As the study indicates in its results, "the project revealed different geographical and temporal patterns of drug use in European cities."

In 2011, in Santiago de Compostela, an average of 211 mg of cocaine was consumed per 1,000 people, but in 2020 it was 610 mg, nearly three times as much. In the case of Castellón, the other Spanish city, for which data are provided, cocaine use was 437 mg per 1,000 inhabitants in 2020.

Among the "patterns" highlighted in this study, which collects data from 2020, shows cases such as the Netherlands where there is abundant use of cannabis or marijuana, which is a legal substance in the country. In the case of amphetamines, the use of this drug is found in northern European regions, such as Sweden or Norway, and on the territory of Croatia. Meanwhile, in Castellón, Spain, through the EDAR Castellón treatment plant, an average consumption of 437 milligrams of cocaine per day was calculated per 1,000 inhabitants.

However, according to the study, the results of samples collected may have a different result from the normal period due to city closures due to the epidemic during 2020, the year in which the samples were collected.

East Germany has a high consumption of methamphetamine, as in the city of Ostrava in the Czech Republic, with an average consumption of 702 milligrams per 1,000 people per day.

Moreover, as the study indicates, methamphetamine use that was generally concentrated in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 2020 also appeared in Cyprus, East Germany and Northern Europe.

In terms of cocaine consumption, the southern station of Antwerp in Belgium is the one with the highest amount: an average of 1.174 milligrams per day. On the other hand, MDMA, a drug similar in its design to amphetamine, is the substance in which a lower average was observed in the studied waters.

The wastewater analysis also shows patterns throughout the week. Hemp, amphetamine, and methamphetamine use was more frequent during the week, while more MDMA use was used from Friday through Monday, the study indicates.

Wastewater analysis

For Spain, Castellón also appears in the data as a region where cocaine consumes 439 mg per 1,000 people on average per day. Both this county and Santiago are the only ones featured in the 2020 study.

By observing studies in previous years such as 2019, Spain also has a high cocaine consumption in Madrid (an average of 504 mg per day per 1000 population), Barcelona (700 mg) and Valencia (488 mg).

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To estimate the presence of substances in wastewater, the waste concentration (nanograms per liter) is multiplied by the water flow (liters per day). The result obtained is divided by the number of residents served by the wastewater treatment plant, which shows the amount of daily consumed per 1000 inhabitants.

The wastewater study is also used to measure the presence of diseases as is done in the case of the Coronavirus, for example, Canal de Isabel II contains a system called Vigía, which analyzes the presence of the Corona virus in wastewater.

However, this study methodology also has its limitations. As collected from the foundation, the analysis of substances such as heroin is more complicated. Moreover, the calculation of total amounts consumed with an average dose is complicated because medicines can be taken in different ways and in different amounts.