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Science Saturday Zurich is Europe’s weekend cocaine capital

man snorting cocaine

Of note: using a CHF100 bill ($105) to snort the cocaine


On weekends, Zurich is Europe’s cocaine hot spot. During the week it is second only to Barcelona when it comes to the amount of cocaine consumed on a daily basis.

The statistics come from a European wastewater study of 56 cities in 19 countries. This week the Portugal-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictionexternal link identified Barcelona, Spain, as the overall cocaine capital of Europe.

Researchers calculated that the average daily concentration of cocaine in Barcelona wastewater was 965 mg per 1,000 people per day; in Zurich it was 934 mg. However, Zurich’s weekend wastewater contained 1,108.5 mg of cocaine, compared with 1,101.2 in Barcelona.

+ A year ago, people in Zurich were consuming a lot less cocaine

For overall mean consumption (mg/1,000/day), five Swiss cities featured in the top nine: as mentioned, Zurich ranked second (934 mg), St Gallen fourth (822 mg), Geneva fifth (795 mg), Basel eighth (563 mg) and Bern ninth (528 mg) – with weekend consumption considerably higher.


The study of drug-taking behaviours of Europeans analysed daily wastewater samples in the catchment areas of wastewater treatment plants over a one-week period. Scientists analysed the wastewater for traces of four illicit drugs: cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine and MDMA (ecstasy).

By sampling wastewater scientists can estimate the quantity of drugs used in a community by measuring the levels of illicit drugs and their metabolites excreted in urine.

The wastewater analysis indicated that cocaine use is highest in western and southern European cities, particularly in cities in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Britain. There is very low to negligible cocaine use in the majority of eastern European cities.

For ecstasy Zurich was ranked fourth (81 mg per 1,000 people per day) and Geneva eighth (47 mg), while Amsterdam was far out in front (230 mg). 

The loads of amphetamine and methamphetamine detected in Swiss wastewater were considerably lower than in northern and eastern European cities.

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