Vancouver Waste-Water Found To Have High Levels of Opioids & Meth, Study Finds

Vancouver Drug Use

Vancouver’s opioid crisis is well-documented, but a new study shows just how ingrained it is in our city.

To learn about drug use patterns in Canada, Statistics Canada launched a year-long project to test waste-water samples around the nation.

Researchers studied waste-water from Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver.

According to Statistics Canada, the study covers 8.4 million Canadians, collectively, which is almost 20% of the Canadian population.

The study looked into drug use as it relates to cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, codeine, and morphine, by testing for specific chemical compounds.

Here’s what they found, as it relates to Vancouver drug use:


To test for cannabis use, researchers tested for THC‑COOH, a compound that results from our body’s conversion of THC. Based on samples from March 2018 to February 2019, Vancouver ranked similarly to Toronto. Both higher than Edmonton but significantly lower than Montréal, as well as Halifax, which was the highest.

Statistics Canada notes that “less than 1% of the mass of cannabis consumed is ultimately excreted as THC‑COOH”. Because of that, results may be lower than reality.


For cocaine, researchers tested for benzoylecgonine, “a compound that is quite stable in wastewater”. Surprisingly, Vancouver ranked the highest, at about 450 grams per million people per week.

In addition, second-highest was Halifax, at just below 400 grams. Behind Halifax was Montréal, Toronto, and Edmonton, all of which were around 300 grams. (For comparison, results for cannabis in Vancouver were around 300 grams.)


Meth was directly tested for in the samples, as “a large portion of this drug passes through the body unchanged.”

Here, Vancouver also ranked surprisingly high. Edmonton and Vancouver ranked highest and second-highest, at just-over and just-under 500 grams, which was higher than Halifax, Montréal, and Toronto, combined.


The first of two opioids that were tested, codeine, like many other opioids, degrade very quickly in waste-water. Because of this, and because many opioids break down into morphine, Statistics Canada warns that the data may or may not skewed.

Edmonton ranked the highest, at over 800 grams, almost double that of second-highest Halifax (475 grams). Vancouver came in third-highest, at around 375 grams.


Statistics Canada notes that there is no way to distinguish between prescribed and non-prescribed morphine use. However, morphine prescriptions aren’t exclusive to Vancouver, so the results from all cities would be affected at a somewhat-similar level.

Vancouver, as one might expect, ranked the highest when it comes to morphine. Second and third-highest were Edmonton and Halifax, respectively, all three of which were above-average.

Furthermore, while codeine use peaked in March and lowered in late-summer, morphine use remained stable throughout the year.

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