Prisons are testing wastewater to detect illegal drug use by criminals in jails in what is thought to be the first scheme of its kind in the world.
Scientists have been commissioned by the prison service to analyse water at 12 jails across the north east of England, Yorkshire and Humberside to establish the scale of drug abuse by inmates and the types of illicit substances.
The testing was originally commissioned to check for Covid outbreaks but officials realised it could be adapted to detect metabolised drugs from inmates including Spice and other psychoactive substances as well as cannabis and cocaine.
It will help prison chiefs target counter-drugs measures at jails including X-ray full body scanners already installed at 16 prisons, random and mandatory drug testing and sniffer dogs.
It follows a doubling in inmates with drug problems in five years. One in seven prisoners (15 per cent) are said to be addicted to illicit substances, up from six per cent in 2014. The rise has been fuelled by the surge in Spice smuggled into jails inside bodies or soaked into paper, hair or clothes.
Prisons minister Lucy Frazer told The Telegraph: “Right across the estate, we’re increasingly using technology to help rehabilitate offenders and to prevent drugs and phones from entering prisons.
“This pilot will help monitor drug prevalence in prisons, detect new and emerging psychoactive substances and ultimately contribute to reducing crime behind bars.”
The testing of wastewater for drugs is an emerging science with a network of scientists across Europe working in 69 cities including London and Bristol to collect and analyse samples from which they can track rising rates of drug use.
It is understood the National Crime Agency (NCA) has considered such technology, which is already being exploited by their counterparts in Australia.
The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission produces an annual report, based on wastewater testing, which shows Australians consume an estimated $9.3bn of cocaine, meth, MDMA (Ecstasy) and heroin each year.
The Commission has scientists who monitor 58 wastewater stations from which they estimate more than 9.6 tonnes of methylamphetamine is consumed each year, along with four tonnes of cocaine, 1.1 tonnes of MDMA, and more than 700kg of heroin.
The analysis is designed to help police and policy makers identify the hotspots for illegal drug use, and assess the effectiveness of strategies to reduce consumption.
Michael Phelin, commission chief executive, said: “Understanding local drug consumption patterns assists law enforcement, policy, regulatory and health agencies develop targeted supply, demand and harm-reduction strategies.”
— to www.telegraph.co.uk