Antwerp again named Europe's cocaine capital after wastewater analysis

Antwerp again named Europe's cocaine capital after wastewater analysis
Antwerp Grand Place. Credit: Belga/Jasper Jacobs

Drug use is rising across Europe and Belgium is once again reporting the highest figures, an annual analysis of wastewater from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) shows.

The Flemish city of Antwerp is again at the top of the list of places where the most traces of cocaine are found in the wastewater. The drug's use in the city is estimated to have increased by 50%. In both Brussels and Amsterdam, cocaine use 'only' increased by around 28%.

Since 2011, the EMCDDA has been investigating European drug use by analysing wastewater in cities. In 2022, samples were taken in 104 cities between March and April to measure the use of cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, MDMA or ecstasy, ketamine and cannabis.

"The loads observed in wastewater indicate that cocaine use remains highest in western and southern European cities, in particular in cities in Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain," the researchers said.

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Low levels were found in the majority of the eastern European cities but the most recent data show signs of increase. "A recent European project on wastewater found crack cocaine residues in all 13 participating cities and for all sampling days, with the highest loads reported in Amsterdam and Antwerp."

For amphetamines, Antwerp is again in the top three, just behind Gävle and Sandviken (both in Sweden). For MDMA/ecstasy, Antwerp occupies second place, behind Amsterdam. For cannabis and ketamine, there were no measurements in Belgium.

By looking for the waste products that remain after drugs are processed by the human body, the researchers can estimate how many drugs are used in a given city.

While wastewater analyses are important, not everything can be deduced from them, the researchers stressed. Furthermore, no measurements have been made in France and the only research figures for the United Kingdom are from Bristol. There are also no measurements in many Eastern European countries.

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