Science | October 26, 2019 12:46 pm

New Study Analyzes Sewage, Discovers World’s Most Popular Drugs

Data unearthed via an unorthodox method that’s gaining ground

A new study offers fascinating information on global drug consumption.
ElsBrinkerink/Creative Commons

How do you find out what drugs are the most popular in a given country or region? You could go around and ask a lot of people about their drug consumption habits, but that has some obvious downsides — and, to be honest, doesn’t seem all that scientific. So how does one learn about drug use for science? Well, it turns out it involves going through a lot of sewage.

It might sound strange on paper, but going through wastewater to learn about drug consumption habits is a method that’s gaining traction around the globe. A recent Australian study, for instance, offered revealing information about how much money was being spent on illegal drugs and what was popular in different regions of the country.

A study released earlier in the week via Addiction included data from 30 countries and 60,000,000 people around the globe. What are the takeaways? According to Vice, “cocaine use is on the rise across Europe, methamphetamine is most prevalent in North America and Australasia, and the Netherlands had the highest rate of MDMA use.”

Where are the cities with the least amount of illegal drugs? Finland, Greece, Poland, Portugal and Sweden, according to the study. 

The methodology of the scientists conducting the study makes for a fascinating read, including the way the scope of the study increased over time and the methods by which they attempted to filter out results that might have emerged from prescription drugs. And in terms of its impact on public policy and public health, there’s a wealth of valuable information to be found within. 

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