Wastewater Testing

For most of us, spending time thinking about our sewage system isn’t very common, but it is actually a very useful tool to tell us what type of drugs, and how much of them, we are consuming in Australia.

The idea behind testing wastewater/sewage is a simple one. All drugs consumed by an individual must be eliminated from the body as part of the normal process of dealing with what are often very toxic chemicals.

Typically the majority of any drug (and/or their metabolites) will be excreted from the body in urine, followed by other, much smaller elimination mechanisms such as sweat, faeces and other body fluids. Virtually all of these excretions are captured and processed by the sewage treatment facilities of our major towns and cities.

By analysing the minute traces (typically less than 1 part per billion) of drugs present in this wastewater, and knowing both the amount of water flowing through the system, as well as the approximate number of people living and working in those towns or cities, scientists can make an estimation of the average consumption of drugs per person per day in those areas.

And this is exactly what has been occurring in Australia for the last several years, and published by the Australian Crime and Intelligence Commission, which you can find HERE

“Australians spent an estimated $11.3 billion on methylamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and heroin from August 2018–August 2019. Of this, $8.63 billion was spent on methylamphetamine”

And the findings from the most recent report are very interesting – for example

Methamphetamine (ice, crystal meth)

Unlike most other illicit drugs consumed in Australia, Methamphetamine consumption is now higher in regional areas than in most capital cities across Australia[1]. This has significant implications for workplace testing, when we consider the additional risks that may come with working in regional areas e.g. longer commute times to/from work, increased chance of working alone or with limited supervision – all risks enhanced by exposure to, or intoxication by, Methamphetamine.

Queensland, NSW and Victoria all have particularly high prevalence of Methamphetamine in their populations in the last survey, but consumption is widespread, and has been increasing over the several years of the ACIC study, as we can see in the following chart extracted from the data.

The most troubling part of course, is that despite all we know about the harmful effects of this drug on driving, workplace safety, social relationships and general health to name but a few  – Australians continue to consume this dangerous drug in ever larger quantities.

[1] Figure 8: Estimated methylamphetamine consumption for August 2019 – per capita figures

Cocaine use can also be clearly seen to be increasing, but the majority of Australia’s use of this drug remains in NSW – Metropolitan Sydney and nearby regional locations have a much higher incidence per capita than most other locations across Australia.

It is important to consider as the economy reopens and our workplaces return to normal, that the ever growing issue of drugs in our workplaces has not gone away.

WDTA members have a great deal of expertise and experience with these regional trends, and would be very happy to discuss the above in more detail. Please contact us.

Figure 8: Estimated methylamphetamine consumption for August 2019 – per capita figures