Last updated June 5, 2020 at 5:22 pm
Adelaide’s wastewater has revealed world-topping levels of meth – but those levels are dropping.
Why This Matters: Honestly, there are better things to do in Adelaide than meth.
Adelaide has topped the world for methamphetamine use, according to a worldwide study of wastewater.
The seven-year project monitored illicit drug use in 120 cities across 37 countries, via wastewater samples. In total, the samples covered 60 million people, making it the largest wastewater-based study undertaken in the world.
Despite this massive scale, however, there still could be other cities with higher usage. Perth, for example, was not studied, but historically has high levels of meth use.
An international team of researchers, including researchers from the University of South Australia and the University of Queensland, mapped the global use of four illicit drugs in their study – amphetamine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and cocaine. For three years they studied just European cities. Then, from 2014 onwards, they added cities in Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Martinique, Canada, the US, South Korea and Israel to the study.
A big problem with ice
In 2017, Adelaide’s wastewater was monitored for a week, revealing between 507 and 659 milligrams of methamphetamine per 1000 people each day. In contrast, both Canberra and Toowoomba recorded levels of between 271-331 milligrams of methamphetamine.
The only city to come close was Seattle, which over three weeks of testing averaged 418mg.
Meth use is considered to be high if average levels are more than 150 mg/1000 people per day – Adelaide was more than 4 times that level. In general Australia and North America used huge amounts of meth, far more than in eastern Europe for example.
Concerningly, Canberra and Toowoomba, which were monitored multiple times over a three year period, showed a 170 per cent increase in methamphetamine use in both cities.
Adelaide was only measured once for the study. However, since the data in this paper was collected the rate of use in Adelaide has reduced by almost half, thanks to ongoing campaigns.
Richard Bade, an analytical chemist at UniSA who was involved in the study, says methamphetamine use is linked to several health conditions, including mental disorders, elevated heart rates and domestic violence.
“It’s important we determine the scale of the illicit drug market so that countries can work out the best way to tackle a $100 billion industry, which is contributing to the global burden of disease and affecting the economic development of many countries,” he says.
Other drugs on the rise worldwide
The study also identified interesting differences in drug use trends in different cities around the world.
For example, cocaine levels were highest in London, Bristol, Amsterdam, Zurich. Geneva, St Gallen and Antwerp between 2011 and 2017. Concentrations in the wastewater showed levels of between 600-900 mg/1000 people per day. The Colombian city of Medellin also had huge levels of cocaine use.
Overall, cocaine use increased by nearly 13 per cent over five years across the globe.
On the other hand, amphetamine loads were highest in Belgium, The Netherlands, and across northern European countries, including Swedish cities and Reykjavik in Iceland.
Maybe unsurprisingly, The Netherlands recorded the highest mass loads of ecstasy. Increases were also reported in cities like Helsinki, Oslo, Brussels and Barcelona, as well as Amsterdam.
The researchers found the wastewater analysis revealed similar results to other ways of estimating drug use, such as survey and seizures by police.
The cities with the highest overall drug levels in Europe include Antwerp, Amsterdam, Zurich, London and Barcelona. At the other end of the scale, cities in Greece, Portugal, Finland, Poland and Sweden have the lowest rates of drug use.