Sewer water to determine drug use of residents
Researchers from Antwerp University are collecting sewer water in Lier, Antwerp province, to see if anonymous questionnaires about illegal drug use match up to the reality
Lier is centre of new project
The fieldwork in Lier, a medium-sized city just east of Antwerp, is part of a wider European project to map the presence of drugs in the sewage of several cities in Europe. It’s well-known that drugs (both soft and hard) leave traces in sewer water in the form of metabolites that leave users’ bodies via their urine. Metabolites, according to researchers, are an objective way to measure the drug use in a city.
The other goal of the project is to “calibrate” answers people give in anonymous surveys concerning drug use and addiction. That’s why the analysis of the sewage in Lier is combined with a thorough (but voluntary) inquiry of its citizens.
The researchers behind the project want to know what mathematical relationship there is between the drug use reported by people in these kinds of surveys and actual drug use. This information can offer improvements to drug use monitoring systems.
But why Lier? “It’s certainly not the case that Lier has a bad reputation in the area of drug use,” explains researcher Alexander Van Nuijs. “With nearly 35,000 inhabitants, this city has a manageable population, and it is also possible here to match the collection of sewer water with the city’s boundaries so that no other city’s water is mixed in with it.”
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