An analysis of ethical issues in using wastewater analysis to monitor illicit drug use

Hall, Wayne, Prichard, James W., Kirkbride, Paul, Bruno, Raimondo, Thai, Phong K., Gartner, Coral, Lai, Foon Yin, Ort, Christoph, & Mueller, Jochen F. (2012) An analysis of ethical issues in using wastewater analysis to monitor illicit drug use. Addiction, 107(10), pp. 1767-1773.

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To discuss ethical issues that may arise in using WWA to monitor illicit drug use in the general population and in entertainment precincts, prisons, schools and work-places.


Review current applications of WWA and identify ethical and social issues that may be raised with current and projected future uses of this method.


Wastewater analysis (WWA) of drug residues is a promising method of monitoring illicit drug use that may overcome some limitations of other monitoring methods. When used for monitoring purposes in large populations, WWA does not raise major ethical concerns because individuals are not identified and the prospects of harming residents of catchment areas are remote. When WWA is used in smaller catchment areas (entertainment venues, prisons, schools or work-places) their results could, possibly, indirectly affect the occupants adversely. Researchers will need to take care in reporting their results to reduce media misreporting. Fears about possible use of WWA for mass individual surveillance by drug law enforcement officials are unlikely to be realized, but will need to be addressed because they may affect public support adversely for this type of research.


Using wastewater analysis to monitor illicit drug use in large populations does not raise major ethical concerns, but researchers need to minimize possible adverse consequences in studying smaller populations, such as workers, prisoners and students.

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24 citations in Web of Science®
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ID Code: 88966
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Additional Information: 002ZK
Times Cited:1
Cited References Count:49
Keywords: drug and narcotic control, environmental monitoring methods, privacy, program evaluation, public policy, street drugs analysis, substance abuse detection ethics, substance abuse detection methods, substance-related disorders epidemiology, wastewater analysis, public-health, abuse, epidemiology, metabolites, pharmaceuticals, consumption, environment, australia, systems, cocaine
DOI: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2012.03887.x
ISSN: 0965-2140
Deposited On: 13 Oct 2015 04:55
Last Modified: 22 Oct 2015 05:18

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