Triangulating wastewater analysis and a prospective survey of drug consumption in regional Australia

A/Prof. Caitlin Hughes1, Prof. Andrew Goldsmith1, Prof. Mark Halsey1, Dr. Sharyn Goudie1, Maulik Ghetia2, Santosh  Adiraju2, Bradley Simpson2, A/Prof. Cobus Gerber2, Prof. Jason  White2

1Centre For Crime Policy And Research, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
2University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

Wastewater analysis (WWA) has rapidly cemented itself as an important tool to capture trends in drug markets, based on analysis of drug metabolites in wastewater. WWA covers an estimated 56% of the Australian population and has brought to the fore many new insights including the elevated levels of drug consumption that occur in regional Australia. Yet best practice is increasingly pointing to the need to triangulate WWA data with epidemiological surveys. This is because WWA can tell the overall amount of drug used, but not in what circumstances drugs are used.

This presentation will report results from an ACIC funded study that triangulated wastewater analysis and a bespoke prospective survey of alcohol and other drug consumption. The survey was administered over a 90-day period in 2021 to a cohort of people who use illicit drugs from one regional Australian town, concurrent to daily WWA such that the two datasets were comparable in space and time. Key variables in the survey included the daily incidence of alcohol or other drug consumption, type of substance(s) consumed, frequency of use per day, route of administration, quantity used, form, location(s) of use, ease of availability and perceived purity. We will compare the WWA extracted mass load per day with the surveyed daily prevalence of use and total quantity used per day, disaggregated by drug type and identify areas of congruence and difference in the datasets. Finally, we will discuss the value add of combining both datasets for understanding drug market trends including the demographic profiles associated with specific patterns of use and the extent to which shifts in WWA mass load are attributable to changing patterns of consumption, as opposed to law enforcement intervention or broader drug market change.


Caitlin Hughes is an Associate Professor in criminology and Matthew Flinders Fellow at the Centre for Crime Policy and Research, Flinders University. Caitlin is also Visiting Fellow at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW and Vice-President of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy. Caitlin has spent 20 years researching drug and alcohol policy: focusing on drug laws, drug law enforcement and drug markets, and working with policy makers to advance Australian and international drug policy.


Dec 10 2021