A team of researchers has developed an automated monitoring method that makes it possible to detect traces of drugs, from cocaine to caffeine, in municipal wastewater and to monitor the patterns of drug use in entire communities.
Oregon State University chemist Jennifer Field described methodologies that she developed with colleagues Daniel Sudakin, an OSU toxicologist, Caleb Banta-Green, a drug epidemiologist at the University of Washington, and Aurea Chiaia Hernandez, an OSU graduate student.
“It’s like a very diluted urine sample collected from an entire community,” Field said.
The analysis can detect the presence of a long list of illicit drugs, from methamphetamine to Ecstasy and other markers of human presence such as caffeine and cotinine, a break-down product of nicotine from cigarette smoke.
Finding patterns of drug consumption in the wastewater can alert municipalities to problems that occur in particular communities or at particular times. This may be useful for tracking such things as the geographic patterns of methamphetamine use. Such tracking can in turn help officials develop patterns of use that may make preventative interventions more effective.