'A more accurate understanding of drug use': a critical analysis of wastewater analysis technology for drug policy
Background: The idea of identifying and monitoring urinary excretion of illicit drugs and their metabolites in wastewater has been seen by governments and international organisations as ‘promising’. It is claimed that such approaches will enable governments to effectively direct resources to priority areas, monitor the progress of demand and supply reduction strategies, as well as identify emerging trends.
Methods: Drawing on poststructural approaches to policy analysis and insights from science and technology studies, we consider how the technology of wastewater analysis may be seen as a kind of proposal with productive capacity and constitutive effects. Through this analysis, we seek to raise ontopolitical questions about the production of data by interrogating the claims to ‘accuracy’ promoted in wastewater analysis, and illuminating the assumptions underpinning such pursuits.
Results: By taking an approach which sees method as performative rather than as descriptive of a pre-existing reality, we consider how wastewater analysis enacts realities into being in the drugs field. We argue that wastewater analysis constitutes drug use as measurable, countable and comparable and, in doing so, enacts a homogenous drug using population in a bounded geographical space, with implications for drug policy. Furthermore, the claim to ‘accuracy’ constitutes people who use drugs as lacking in knowledge and unaware, and relates to a range of practices which work to continually re-produce people who use drugs as criminal, untrustworthy and in need of surveillance.
Conclusions: Through this analysis, we seek to generate critical discussion about practices of ‘evidence-making’, the privileging of ‘scientific data’ in drug policy processes (especially as it relates to population prevalence of drug use), and the hitherto unexamined effects of wastewater analysis for drug policy.