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A new paradigm in drug use and human health risk assessment: Sewage profiling at the community level

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Drug use clues in sewage

Researchers have trained and equipped scientists with knowledge on how to test for the use of drugs in communities. The researchers have also improved on this knowledge by introducing new methods and biomarkers of drug use at the community level via their analysis in wastewater.

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The EU-funded SEWPROF (A new paradigm in drug use and human health risk assessment: Sewage profiling at the community level) initiative has pioneered the innovative research strategy of obtaining epidemiological information from wastewater. The technique is currently used to determine illicit drug-use trends in communities by analysing urinary biomarkers in wastewater. So far, the approach has mostly focused on determining legal or illegal drug use in communities. There is large potential for wastewater-based epidemiology to be extended to human health biomarkers to help with community-wide health and disease diagnostics. SEWPROF set out to equip new scientists with knowledge of illicit drug use and bridge gaps in this knowledge. The researchers developed and validated new wastewater-based epidemiology approaches that are geared towards public health monitoring at the community level. They profiled community-wide health and lifestyle by analysing human biomarkers in wastewater using hyphenated mass spectrometry techniques, bioanalytical techniques and sensing. Among new wastewater-based epidemiology biomarkers introduced by SEWPROF researchers are biomarkers of oxidative stress and biomarkers of public exposure to environmental and food toxicants. Researchers identified new synthetic drugs of abuse in the illicit drug market They also verified abuse of prescription and illicit drugs. Newly developed biosensors allowed for the analysis of cocaine and prostate specific antigen in near real-time. In a pan-European study, SEWPROF researchers have successfully studied spatial and temporal changes in drug use and public health status.


Drug use, sewage, biomarkers, SEWPROF, wastewater-based epidemiology

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