High-throughput wastewater analysis for substance use assessment in central New York during the COVID-19 pandemic
Wastewater entering sewer networks represents a unique source of pooled epidemiological information. In this study, we coupled online solid-phase extraction with liquid chromatography-high resolution mass spectrometry to achieve high-throughput analysis of health and lifestyle-related substances in untreated municipal wastewater during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Twenty-six substances were identified and quantified in influent samples collected from six wastewater treatment plants during the COVID-19 pandemic in central New York. Over a 12 week sampling period, the mean summed consumption rate of six major substance groups (i.e., antidepressants, antiepileptics, antihistamines, antihypertensives, synthetic opioids, and central nervous system stimulants) correlated with disparities in household income, marital status, and age of the contributing populations as well as the detection frequency of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) RNA in wastewater and the COVID-19 test positivity in the studied sewersheds. Nontarget screening revealed the covariation of piperine, a nontarget substance, with SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater collected from one of the sewersheds. Overall, this proof-of-the-concept study demonstrated the utility of high-throughput wastewater analysis for assessing the population-level substance use patterns during a public health crisis such as COVID-19.