Challenges and opportunities in using wastewater analysis to measure drug use in a small prison facility




Emma van Dyken, Foon Yin Lai, Phong K. Thai, Christoph Ort, Raimondo Bruno, Wayne Hall, K. Paul Kirkbride, Jochen F. Mueller and Jeremy Prichard

Drug and Alcohol Review

October 1, 2014




Introduction and Aims

Wastewater analysis (WWA) is intended to be a direct and objective method of measuring substance use in large urban populations. It has also been used to measure prison substance use in two previous studies. The application of WWA in this context has raised questions as to how best it might be used to measure illicit drug use in prisons, and whether it can also be used to measure prescription misuse. We applied WWA to a small regional prison to measure the use of 12 licit and illicit substances. We attempted to measure the non-medical use of methadone and buprenorphine and to compare our findings with the results of the prison's mandatory drug testing (MDT).


Design and Methods

Representative daily composite samples were collected for two periods of 12 consecutive days in May to July 2013 and analysed for 18 drug metabolites. Prescription data and MDT results were obtained from the prison and compared with the substance use estimates calculated from WWA data.



Daily use of methamphetamine, methadone, buprenorphine and codeine was detected, while sporadic detection of ketamine and methylone was also observed. Overall buprenorphine misuse appeared to be greater than methadone misuse.


Discussion and Conclusions

Compared with MDT, WWA provides a more comprehensive picture of prison substance use. WWA also has the potential to measure the misuse of medically prescribed substances. However, a great deal of care must be exercised in quantifying the usage of any substance in small populations, such as in prisons. [van Dyken E, Lai FY, Thai PK, Ort C, Bruno R, Hall W, Kirkbride KP, Mueller JF, Prichard J. Challenges and opportunities in using wastewater analysis to measure drug use in a small prison facility. Drug Alcohol Rev 2014]









Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee