Wastewater analysis, forensic science and the changing field of drug monitoring

J. Prichard1, F. Yin Lai3, P. Kirkbride2, P. Thai4, R. Bruno1, W. Hall3, J.W. O’Brien3, J.F. Mueller3

1 University of Tasmania
2 Flinders University
3 University of Queensland
4 Queenland University of Technology

Wastewater analysis (WWA) has established clear techniques for collecting and analysing samples of sewage water to detect and estimate quantities of a wide variety of illicit drugs, including methylamphetamine. WWA has been incorporated into the ongoing drug monitoring systems of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Monitoring.

This presentation examines what WWA has to offer in the Australian context of drug monitoring. It presents some of the results of the first Australia-wide WWA study conducted by Lai and colleagues (2016), which analysed samples of sewage water taken from 14 municipal sewage treatment plants in six jurisdictions. Collectively, these sewage treatment plants service approximately 40% of the Australian population.

The presentation reflects how WWA requires new ways of thinking about drug metrics, primarily because it is driven by chemistry – a discipline that hitherto has played a secondary role in drug monitoring. It is suggested that the WWA method is novel to the social scientist not only because of the role of chemistry, but because the data collection ‘apparatus’ is the nation’s sewer network. The presentation invites those from health and justice portfolios to view their engagement with WWA as a necessary step to ensure that WWA is used to best effect for policy purposes.


Dr Jeremy Prichard teaches Criminal Law and enjoys interdisciplinary collaborations to tackle complex criminological issues. Jeremy is a CI on a four year ARC Linkage Grant examining population-level consumption of drugs, tobacco & alcohol in all Australian jurisdictions. He is also the lead CI on an ARC Discovery Grant applying situational crime prevention to develop new strategies to reduce the market in online child exploitation material. He’s a local Hobartian.

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