In this work a step forward in investigating the use of prescription drugs, namely erectile dysfunction products, at European level was taken by applying the wastewater-based epidemiology approach. 24-h composite samples of untreated wastewater were collected at the entrance of eight wastewater treatment plants serving the catchment within the cities of Bristol, Brussels, Castellón, Copenhagen, Milan, Oslo, Utrecht and Zurich. A validated analytical procedure with direct injection of filtered aliquots by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry was applied. The target list included the three active pharmaceutical ingredients (sildenafil, tadalafil and vardenafil) together with (bio)transformation products and other analogues. Only sildenafil and its two human urinary metabolites desmethyl- and desethylsildenafil were detected in the samples with concentrations reaching 60 ng L−1. The concentrations were transformed into normalized measured loads and the estimated actual consumption of sildenafil was back-calculated from these loads. In addition, national prescription data from five countries was gathered in the form of the number of prescribed daily doses and transformed into predicted loads for comparison. This comparison resulted in the evidence of a different spatial trend across Europe. In Utrecht and Brussels, prescription data could only partly explain the total amount found in wastewater; whereas in Bristol, the comparison was in agreement; and in Milan and Oslo a lower amount was found in wastewater than expected from the prescription data. This study illustrates the potential of wastewater-based epidemiology to investigate the use of counterfeit medication and rogue online pharmacy sales.
- Erectile dysfunction
- Prescription drugs
- Wastewater-based epidemiology