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Analysis of wastewater samples can be used to assess population drug use, but reporting and statistical issues have limited the utility of the approach for epidemiology due to analytical results that are below the limit of quantification or detection. Unobserved or non-quantifiable—censored—data are common and likely to persist as the methodology is applied to more municipalities and a broader array of substances. We demonstrate the use of censored data techniques and account for measurement errors to explore distributions and annual estimates of the daily mean level of drugs excreted per capita.


Daily 24-hour composite wastewater samples for 56 days in 2009 were obtained using a random sample stratified by day of week and season for 19 municipalities in the Northwest region of the U.S.


Methamphetamine, benzoylecgonine (cocaine metabolite), 3,4-ethylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone were identified and quantified in wastewater samples. Four statistical approaches (reporting censoring, maximum likelihood estimation, Kaplan-Meier estimates, or complete data calculations) were used to estimate an annual average, including confidence bounds where appropriate, dependent upon the amount of censoring in the data.


The proportion of days within a year with censored data varied greatly by drug across the 19 municipalities, with MDMA varying the most (4% to 94% of observations censored). The different statistical approaches each needed to be used given the levels of censoring of measured drug concentrations. Figures incorporating confidence bounds allow visualization of the data that facilitates appropriate comparisons across municipalities.


Results from wastewater sampling that are below detection or quantification limits contain important information and can be incorporated to create a more complete and valid estimate of drug excretion.


This document is a pre-print version of an article that was originally published in Science of The Total Environment. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.


Science of the Total Environment


Published version: © 2016 Published by Elsevier B.V