News Feature | January 24, 2024

San Francisco Now Testing Wastewater For Fentanyl As Drug Problem Spirals

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

GettyImages-1055975932 fentanyl

One of the largest cities in the U.S., struggling to tame one of its largest drug problems, has turned to wastewater analysis for help.

“San Francisco began wastewater testing … for fentanyl and other substances in a bid to better track trends and inform intervention efforts,” Axios San Francisco reported. “San Francisco will send samples from wastewater treatment plants every other week to Biobot Analytics, a laboratory services company that will analyze it for fentanyl, methamphetamine, amphetamine, cocaine and xylazine.”

Wastewater analysis rose to prominence as a tool to address public health crises during the COVID-19 pandemic. Demonstrating the newfound popularity of this research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added wastewater analysis data to its national COVID-19 dashboard. These techniques have since been used to track outbreaks of monkeypox, polio, and now, illicit drug use.

“Wastewater testing has proved effective for measuring rates of actual substance use, transmission and locations of interest,” according to Axios. “The real-time data can help public health officials respond quickly to early-warning signs around usage and overdoses and inform efforts to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.”

The data gleaned from this effort will help shape strategic interventions as they demonstrate where illicit drug use is most prominent and that data could eventually be made public. Facing overdose mortality rates that might set records this year, San Francisco’s efforts can help other cities tackle their own problems as fentanyl spurs a nation-wide crisis.

“As municipalities like San Francisco pioneer the marshaling of wastewater epidemiology, eyes stay peeled on how this data-driven approach informs public health efforts,” per Hoodline. “The goal, marrying technology and epidemiology, is to catch emerging threats as they ‘pop up on the streets,’ and hopefully dismantle the stigmas shrouding an issue with far-reaching tentacles beyond mere crime statistics.”

To read more about how wastewater treatment professionals test influent and effluent, visit Water Online’s Wastewater Analysis Solutions Center.