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A COVID-era wastewater monitoring system will now be used to track drug use

Courtesy of New Castle County government

For the past two years, New Castle County has partnered with Biobot to monitor wastewater for signs of COVID-19 to strategically place testing sites and vaccination locations.

“During COVID we saw how, at least early on, the testing was disproportionately used in higher income areas. Higher income, whiter areas were using the testing sites. So nationally, that led to misleading conclusions as to where COVID was,” explained New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer.

He adds that by monitoring waste, the county can get an accurate reading of health data without it being able to be traced back to an individual.

Using the same technology, wastewater will now be monitored for fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine, nicotine, and their metabolites.

The goal is a more accurate view of drug use in the county, as other data points, such as those collected from the police, can be skewed for a number of reasons.

Lt. Allen Herring is the head of the New Castle County Police Department Hero Help program, which works to provide addiction treatment to adults in the county.

He says that traditionally, drug prevention outreach has been based on non-fatal overdose data, police response, and drug seizures.

“So that’s reactive. We’re going out and trying to prevent someone from overdosing again, but they’ve already done it once,” said Herring. “This gives us truly proactive data, to be able to go out into an area and say ‘Hey, this is where it’s happening. Let’s get out here before they ever get involved with police.’”

The county will be partnering with entities such as the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health and local schools to help deploy drug prevention and response efforts to areas that show an increased need.

Data will be collected from 12 county sewer substations.

Like the COVID-19 wastewater data, the drug monitoring data will be public, and will be available to view online at

While this initiative is starting in New Castle County, it could expand statewide in the future.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.