Centre of Expertise Urban Vitality

Triangulating Amsterdam’s illicit stimulant use trends by wastewater analysis and recreational drug use monitoring


Drug consumption estimates are of relevance because of public health effects as well as associated criminal activities. Wastewater analysis of drug residues enables the estimation of drug consumption and drug markets. Short-term and long-term trends of cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), amphetamine (speed) and methamphetamine (crystal meth), were studied for the city of Amsterdam. MDMA (+41%) and cocaine (+26%) showed significantly higher weekend vs. week consumption, while no differences were observed for the other drugs. The consumption of MDMA, cocaine, amphetamine and methamphetamine significantly increased between 2011 and 2019. Weekly trends emerging from wastewater analyses were supported by qualitative and quantitative data from a recreational drug use monitoring scheme. However, information collected in panel interviews within nightlife networks and surveys among visitors of pubs, clubs and festivals only partially reflected the long term increase in consumption as registered from wastewater analysis. Furthermore, methamphetamine use was not well presented in survey data, panel studies and test service samples, but could be monitored trough wastewater analysis. This illustrates that wastewater analysis can function as an early warning if use and user groups are small or difficult to reach trough other forms of research. All in all, this study illustrates that wastewater-based epidemiology is complementary to research among user groups, and vice versa. These different types of information enable to connect observed trends in total drug consumption to behaviour of users and the social context in which the use takes place as well as validate qualitative signals about (increased) consumption of psychoactive substances. Such a multi angular approach to map the illicit drug situation on local or regional scale can provide valuable information for public health.

Reference Laak, T. L. T., Emke, E., Benschop, A., Nabben, T., & Béen, F. (2022). Triangulating Amsterdam’s illicit stimulant use trends by wastewater analysis and recreational drug use monitoring. Forensic Science International, 340, Article 111449. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2022.111449
Published by  Urban Vitality 1 November 2022

Publication date

Nov 2022


Thomas L. ter Laak
Erik Emke
Frederic Béen


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