The burden of city's pain treatment - A longitudinal one year study of two cities via wastewater-based epidemiology

Andrew Kannan, Natalie Sims, Angus J Hold, Kishore Jagadeesan, Richard Standerwick, Ruth Barden, Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern

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8 Citations (SciVal)


This paper explores Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (WBE) as a tool enabling understanding of city's pain treatment in an intercity longitudinal study. An intensive 13-month monitoring programme was undertaken in two adjacent urban areas in South-West England: a small commuter town Keynsham and the city of Bath (>180 samples collected). The study has shown a great potential of using triangulated WBE and National health Service (NHS) prescription data in understanding pain treatment in two contrasting communities with strong apparent seasonal patterns of short pain medications vs chronic pain treatment as well as the type of treatment used (e.g. oral vs topical). Community-wide usage of Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) and paracetamol in the intercity study is population size and season driven with the highest usage recorded in winter months. This contrasts with other pain pharmaceuticals, especially those used for chronic pain, where no/limited seasonal usage was recorded. Unmetabolized NSAIDs are, to a large extent, directly disposed of into the sewerage system bypassing metabolism due to their topical application. This is particularly apparent in winter months with naproxen showing the highest seasonal variability. Pharma/met (ratio of pharmaceutical and its metabolite concentration) analysis allows for tracking topical (non-metabolic) application/down-the-drain disposal of pharmaceuticals with frequent instances of direct disposal of NSAIDs into the sewerage system observed. Normalisation of pharma markers to population size shows comparable estimates of pharma usage in the two cities confirming population as the main driver of pharma loads in wastewater. Variable application patterns of pain pharmaceuticals make back-calculation of intake more convoluted. Intake calculated using percentage excretion of parent NSAIDs will likely lead to overestimation, as it is assumed that NSAIDs are subject to extensive metabolism (this is not the case for topical applications). Intake calculated using percentage excretion of metabolites (or parent compound) as consumption markers leads to underestimation of NSAIDs usage due to contributions from topical application not being accounted for. Prescription data indicates cumulative internal and topical usage, but the data ignores large proportion of over-the-counter usage. Therefore, we have proposed a combined approach allowing for estimation of total usage including, and differentiating between, topical application and oral administration.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119391
JournalWater Research
Early online date21 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2023


  • Analgesics
  • Chemical mining
  • Human exposure
  • NSAIDs
  • Pain
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology
  • Water fingerprinting
  • WBE

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modelling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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