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

Wayne Hall, Jeremy Pritchard, Kenneth Kirkbride, Raimondo Bruno, Phong Thai, Coral Gartner, Foon Lai, Christoph Ort, Jochen Mueller

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    72 Citations (Scopus)


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

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1767-1773
    Number of pages7
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


    • 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


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