The current study is aimed to introduce a wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) approach for the first time on the African continent where substance abuse data is limited. The study included the quantification of several drugs of abuse (DOA) in raw wastewater samples. Quantification of urinary metabolites as drug target residues (DTR), as well as enantiomeric profiling of chiral DOA was performed to distinguish between consumption and direct disposal into sewage. Monitoring campaigns were undertaken at two South African wastewater treatment works (WWTWs) located within two provinces of the country. The presence of non-racemic 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and methamphetamine, as well as the metabolite of cocaine, benzoylecgonine (BEG), confirmed their consumption within the areas investigated. Enantiomeric profiling further pointed to the abuse of methamphetamine as the primary DOA with use estimates calculated between 181.9 and 1184.8 mg·day− 1·1000 inhabitants− 1. Population-normalised mass loads for MDMA and cocaine confirmed their status as secondary DOA within the study sites. Use estimates for the new psychoactive substance (NPS) mephedrone were performed for one WWTW. The minor metabolite of heroin, O-6-monoacetylmorphine (O-6-MAM), was also detected at one WWTW and served as a qualitative indicator for heroin abuse within the area. These findings provide a novel comparison of the WBE approach in a developing-country with other global studies, with the aim to strengthen this approach as a tool to inform drug prevention strategies in countries where substance abuse data is limited due to financial constraints and lack of government structures to facilitate conventional monitoring.
- Illicit drugs
- Substance abuse