Wastewater Pilot Programme

Wastewater Pilot Programme

Date Published: 
March 2019

We know that drug use causes significant harm in our communities, so in December 2016 New Zealand Police began a wastewater pilot programme to get an accurate assessment of the prevalence of drug use in the community.

The current focus of the programme is to establish a baseline of what consumption looks like among the population covered by the Auckland, Christchurch and Whangarei testing sites.

Wastewater samples were taken daily for one week per month from each site and analysed to determine the quantity and frequency of the use of methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA,[1] alpha‐PVP,[2] and heroin.

The three test locations have a population of 647, 000 people, which equates to 13% of the NZ population. Population demographics vary between the test locations, therefore, comparing the three test sites should be done so with caution.

Fentanyl was added to the testing schedule in May 2018 at each of the three sample sites. Please note that data on fentanyl consumption includes both illicit and legal use because fentanyl is available via prescription in New Zealand.

Wastewater testing, alongside other data collection, is crucial to Police’s understanding of drug consumption in our communities.

Key findings as at August 2018:

  • Methamphetamine remains the most commonly used drug, and is used in the highest volume across all three sample locations.
  • The three sample sites generate an estimated $58 million in known drug revenue to organised crime groups over the period of testing. This represents extensive community harm as many users obtain their money through crime.
  • Over the past 18 months, 1.5kg of methamphetamine was estimated to have been consumed on average each week across the sample population, which is estimated to translate into $2million per week in social harm.
  • Methamphetamine consumption has consistently been the highest per capita in Whangarei compared to the other sample locations. Furthermore, of the drugs tested, methamphetamine was detected almost exclusively in Whangarei which differed from the other locations where more diverse patterns of illicit drug consumption was evident.
  • MDMA was the second most commonly detected drug across the sample locations, with an estimated consumption rate of 0.6kg on average each week. While this is less than half the use of methamphetamine, MDMA consumption was overall significantly higher compared to the other drugs tested.
  • Over the testing period methamphetamine was used in high volumes across all three locations. MDMA was used most frequently in Christchurch whereas cocaine was found mostly in Auckland.
  • Cocaine was detected in low quantities on average each week, 0.1kg and 0.01kg respectively. This indicates a smaller user base and likely reflects less demand and supply associated with these drugs.
  • Over the testing period methamphetamine was consistently used in high volumes on every day of the week, which indicates a constant demand. MDMA consumption and cocaine use occurs mostly over the weekend, indicating it is typically used recreationally.
  • In respect to alpha-PVP and heroin, both of these drugs did not meet the detection threshold which indicates they were not used at the sample locations or in very small amounts.
  • Fentanyl has only been tested very recently and it is too early to draw conclusions. We are working with the Ministry of Health to establish which proportion of the fentanyl in the wastewater is illicit.

[1] Note: 3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA), is commonly known as ecstasy in New Zealand and overseas.

[2] Note: alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha-PVP), is a synthetic cathinone with stimulant effects similar to methamphetamine.