Wastewater analysis, forensic science and the changing field of drug monitoring

Invited Speaker: Associate Professor Jeremy Prichard (UTAS)

Jeremy is an Associate Professor at the Law School, University of Tasmania. He was part of the original team that set up wastewater analysis (WWA) in Queensland and negotiated support from intelligence agencies. Jeremy has published 23 articles on WWA and is currently writing a book on the topic. He and his much better half, Jacqui, have five kids.

Presentation: Wastewater analysis, forensic science and the changing field of drug monitoring

WWA has established clear techniques for collecting and analysing samples of sewage water to detect and estimate quantities of a wide variety of illicit drugs, including methylamphetamine. WWA has been incorporated into the ongoing drug monitoring systems of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Monitoring.

This presentation examines what WWA has to offer in the Australian context of drug monitoring. It presents some of the results of the first Australia-wide WWA study, which analysed samples of sewage water taken from 14 municipal sewage treatment plants in six jurisdictions. Collectively, these sewage treatment plants service approximately 40% of the Australian population.

The presentation reflects how WWA requires new ways of thinking about drug metrics, primarily because it is driven by chemistry – a discipline that hitherto has played a secondary role in drug monitoring. It is suggested that the WWA method is novel to the social scientist not only because of the role of chemistry, but because the data collection ‘apparatus’ is the nation’s sewer network. Applications of WWA in the prison setting are discussed.