29 Oct 2017

New online drug survey launched: Chris Wilkins

From Sunday Morning, 7:11 am on 29 October 2017

Testing for drug levels in waterways is about to be trialled in the regions, following a pilot programme in Auckland.

Water pipe in a sewage treatment plant

Water pipe in a sewage treatment plant Photo: 123RF

Analysis of Auckland's wastewater between May and July 2014 found methamphetamine, morphine, methadone, and codeine in two sewage treatment plants servicing 1.3 million people.

Project leader Associate Professor Chris Wilkins from Massey University's SHORE and Whariki Research Centre said the drug levels found in Auckland's wastewater were ranked about sixth of eight when compared to Australian centres.

However there was no clear data on the level of drug taking in the regions in New Zealand, he said, but doing so would have advantages over a big centre like Auckland.

"One of the strengths of the methodology is that often a smaller town or city has only one sewage treatment plant, that means that when we test there we cover the entire community which actually produces really strong data."

Now his team is set to extend their testing to other regions in New Zealand for several months including over the Christmas holiday period.

"We actually are really interested in that holiday period and what impact it does have on the consumption of a whole lot of drugs."

He said they were talking to communities on a case by case basis to meet demand from regional authorities.

"They're the ones that have actually approached us over the years and I would present data and findings about drug use in New Zealand and they'd come to us and say 'look, have you got any of these results for my town or my city?' 

"And we said 'well, unfortunately we haven't', so they're really keen to get this kind of data."

The team would be testing for alcohol and tobacco as well as illegal or prescription drugs, Professor Wilkins said.

He said Australia had just completed a national programme of wastewater testing, with more than 100 tests in nearly all the states and they planned on doing that testing annually.

Mr Wilkins said wastewater testing was effective in measuring the total amount of a drug that was consumed in a community, but there was other information that was needed.

He said an online survey would look at people's drug use and ask them about the extent to which they needed help, as well as any barriers they had to getting help and health services, and what type of services they might be interested in using.


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