Asia Minute: Testing Wastewater for Drugs in New Zealand

Oct 15, 2018

Aerial view of Auckland, New Zealand
Credit craigsyd / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Flickr

Authorities in New Zealand are trying a new tactic to better understand patterns of drug use in the country. They’re testing the water — waste water from sewers. It’s been done elsewhere, but for New Zealand this is a different approach.

Police in New Zealand are expanding a program of testing waste water around the country for the presence of illegal drugs. Among the targets: methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and MDMA — or “ecstasy.”

Minister of Police Stuart Nash says expanding the program to cover roughly 80 percent of the population will “act as an early warning system for emerging risks.”

Australia has been using waste water testing for more than two years — in part to track the use of methamphetamine — which has emerged as a national drug abuse crisis down under.

Last week, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission released its analysis of the latest testing — which found a spike in the use of the opioid fentanyl — with consumption doubling in some regional areas.

Wellington, New Zealand
Credit Phillip Capper / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

Testing wastewater for drugs has been done for some time in other places — including parts of the United States.

But the earliest adopters were in Europe.

A study released earlier this year used waste water to compare drug use among 60 European cities. It found cocaine use highest in western and southern Europe and methamphetamine use heaviest in northern and eastern Europe.

In New Zealand, authorities say the purpose of increased waste water testing is not only related to law enforcement, but also education and treatment — with a particular focus on methamphetamine.