Nationwide study of sewage water for drug use

To get a clearer picture of drug use in the Netherlands, a nationwide study is being conducted on drug residues in sewage water. This kind of study is already occasionally conducted locally on behalf of municipalities and as part of a broader study in several European cities, but there is no good nationwide picture yet. In a trial, a nationwide study is now being conducted via National Sewer Water Surveillance monitoring points to see if drug use can be better mapped via sewage water.

This was decided by the government on the proposal of Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius of Justice and Security and State Secretary Van Ooijen of Health, Welfare and Sport. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Trimbos Institute and the Association of Regional Water Authorities have been asked to conduct the study on drug residues in sewage water through the National Sewage Surveillance System (NRS).

Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius of Justice and Security: “Drug use is not normal. It poses great danger. Drug trafficking and drug production are accompanied by intimidation and brutal violence that threaten our society: shootings, explosions and incendiary drug labs in residential areas, young people doing criminal jobs and drug waste in nature conservation areas. Every sniff of cocaine and each ecstasy pill contributes to the maintenance of this ruthless criminal industry that we are fighting against with our entire rule of law.”

State Secretary Maarten van Ooijen of Health, Welfare and Sport: “Besides being dangerous, using drugs is also very unhealthy. This pilot will give us an even more complete and objective picture of which drugs are being used. With this information, we can use even more targeted interventions to reduce drug use.”

Broader insight

In November, the first pilot set-up of sewage measurements at around 20 locations began. The areas covered by the measurement points were chosen scattered across the country to get a better picture of drug use in the Netherlands. This looks at geographical differences in, for example, population composition in age and the division between urban and rural areas. By measuring several times a year for a few days a week, an up-to-date time picture of drug use becomes available, and changes can be noticed quickly. The results thus provide insight into drug use at a broader geographical level and potentially identify emerging trends and developments. This could be of value for the drug policies of the relevant ministries.

It was decided to first carry out a pilot study to find out what is needed in terms of knowledge and logistics to best carry out the national study. Adjustments can then be made if necessary. The pilot will run until the end of 2024, during which the use of cocaine will be measured at five moments (as yet): cocaine by measuring the substance benzoylecgoinine (substance to which cocaine is converted in the body), amphetamine (speed), methamphetamine (crystal meth), MDMA (ecstasy) and designer drugs or new psychoactive substances (3-CMC and 4-CMC). The House of Representatives will be informed about the progress and results of the study (in the interim). Based on the results, it will be decided whether the study should be carried out on a standard basis to continue measuring drug use.