Towards a water-wise world Annual report 2014

Most cited article in 2014  

Willem Koerselman Award for Emke and De Voogt

11 December 2014Organisation Research

Erik Emke and Pim de Voogt are the winners of the 2014 Willem Koerselman Award for their article: “Comparing illicit drug use in 19 European cities through sewage analysis”, published in the scientific journal “Science of the Total Environment”. In 2014, the article was cited 43 times by other researchers, bringing the total number of citations since the article was published in 2012 to 63.

The Willem Koerselman Award is presented every year by Chief Science Officer Gertjan Medema to the KWR researchers whose peer-reviewed article was most cited over the preceding year. Traditionally, the award is actually handed to the researchers by ex-colleague, Willem Koerselman, who the award is named after. The winning article for 2014, which dates back to 2012, describes research that was conducted during a single week into the sewage water of 19 European cities for the purpose of analysing drug use. It demonstrates that a standardised analysis of illicit drugs in sewage can be used to estimate and compare the presence of drugs at local and international levels.

Extensive collaboration

The Koerselman Award is an internal prize aimed at rewarding the institute’s own researchers for their scientific performance. Award winner Erik Emke is pleased with the honour. At the same time, however, he emphasises that a number of other researchers also contributed to the work. “In March 2011, we conducted sewage measurements simultaneously in 19 European cities. This required the collaboration of different researchers and labs.”

“In practically all of the European cities studied, the consumption of cocaine and ecstasy was significantly higher over the week-end than during the week.”

A picture of drug use and the drug market

The research of so-called biomarkers in sewage – (residual) substances that are eliminated through urine – is a complementary approach in the assessment of drug use in a population. On the basis of the concentrations measured, one can calculate the amount of drugs used in a city. The sewage analysis looked at cocaine, amphetamine, ecstasy, methamphetamine and cannabis. “We discovered both time and geographical patterns,” explains Emke. “In practically all of the European cities we studied, the consumption of cocaine and ecstasy was significantly higher over the week-end than during the week. Cocaine is used more in Western and Central Europe than in Northern and Eastern Europe. The combined results of the 19 cities converts to a daily cocaine use in all of Europe of 356 kg during the week of the research.” On a per capita basis, the researchers discovered high levels of ecstasy consumption in Dutch cities, Antwerp and London. They found that the cities with the highest per capita consumption of amphetamines were Helsinki, Turku, Oslo and Budweis. Cannabis use, in turn, is quite similar across the continent. “Cities can in this way get a picture of the drug use of their inhabitants, and thus of public health,” adds Emke. “But the research also says something about the drug market: where are the suppliers?”

The article is still a solid reference: as of 15 March 2015, it had been cited 92 times by other researchers.

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