Wastewater used to map illicit drug use

Jul 15, 2009

A team of researchers has mapped patterns of illicit drug use across the state of Oregon using a method of sampling municipal wastewater before it is treated.

Their findings provide a one-day snapshot of excretion that can be used to better understand patterns of drug use in multiple municipalities over time. Municipal water treatment facilities across Oregon volunteered for the study to help further the development of this methodology as a proactive tool for health officials.

Applying analytical methods advanced at Oregon State University, researchers from the University of Washington, McGill University and OSU collected single-day samples from 96 municipalities across Oregon and tested the samples for evidence of methamphetamine, cocaine, and "ecstasy" or MDMA.

The study, published this week in the journal Addiction, reports a demonstration of this methodology conducted by UW drug epidemiologist Caleb Banta-Green, OSU chemist Jennifer Field, OSU toxicologist Daniel Sudakin, McGill spatial epidemiologist Luc de Montigny, OSU faculty research assistant Laura Power and OSU graduate student Aurea Chiaia.

"This work is the first to demonstrate the use of samples for spatial analyses, a relatively simple and cost-effective approach to measuring community drug use," said Banta-Green, lead author of the paper. "Current measures of the true prevalence of drug use are severely limited both by cost and methodological issues. We believe these data have great utility as a population measure of drug use and provide further evidence of the validity of this methodology."

"Municipalities across the state generously volunteered to help us test our methods by collecting samples more or less simultaneously, providing us with 24-hour composite influent samples from one day -- March 4, 2008," said Field, who led the laboratory analyses of the samples.

Using these samples from 96 municipalities, representing 65 percent of Oregon's population, the researchers calculated the presence, measured as index loads, of three stimulant drugs: methamphetamine, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, or ecstasy), and benzoylecgonine (BZE, a cocaine metabolite).

They found that the index loads of BZE were significantly higher in urban areas and below the level of detection in some rural areas. Methamphetamine was present in all municipalities, rural and urban. MDMA was at quantifiable levels in less than half of the communities, with a significant trend toward higher index loads in more urban areas.

Researchers said the study validates wastewater drug testing methodology that could serve as a tool for public health officials. Officials could, for example, use the methodology to identify patterns of drug abuse across multiple municipalities over time.

The research team underscored, too, that data used for this study are inadequate as a complete measure of drug excretion for a community or entire state. The team looked at a single day, mid-week sample, for instance. Results might be altered depending on the day or time of year the sample was gathered.

"We believe this methodology can dramatically improve measurement of the true level and distribution of a range of illicit drugs. By measuring a community's drug index load, public health officials will have information applicable to a much larger proportion of the total population than existing measures can provide," said Banta-Green.

Currently, Field and Banta-Green are working on a project funded by the National Institutes of Health to determine the best method for collecting data in order to get a reliable annual estimate of drug excretion for a community.

Source: Oregon State University (news : web)

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Soylent
4.8 / 5 (6) Jul 15, 2009
Drug prohibition has been a miserable failure, even more so than alcohol prohibition in the 20th century.

Just like alcohol prohibition drove alcohol consumption towards hard liquor instead of bulky beer and cider, drug prohibition has driven drug consumption towards highly concentrated, highly addictive substances. It was once common to have pain relievers based upon opioids and even then only a very small segment of the population became addicted and abused these substances.

It has created a source of funding for organized crimes, again just like its alcohol prohibition counter-part. Naturally they want to push their most addictive drugs.

It has created a situation in which otherwise law-abiding citizens come in contact with the criminal elements of society, risk criminal prosecution themselves and lose much respect for law enforcement and politics.

To add insult to injury a science-based rather than ideological evaluation of the harm represented by use of the various drugs(e.g. the drug harm index) rates alcohol and tobacco as some of the most harmful drugs.

The state should admit that it is the cause of an ongoing tragedy, appologize for all the harm it has done and just get out of the way.
TheTim
5 / 5 (2) Jul 16, 2009
Unfortunately, Soylent is correct. Howver, the prohibition has created an entire economy unto itself, which is why drug prohibition, in the United States at least, will stay for quite some time.

Imagine the number of people employed to tackle the drug issue...DEA agents, corrections officers, lawyers, judges, police, law clerks, Big Pharma providing "treatments", etc, etc, etc. Now imagine the loss of tax revenue those people pay back into the system.

Sad, sad world we live in when an entire economy is built around peoples' weaknesses, instead of strengths.
Velanarris
3 / 5 (2) Jul 21, 2009
Unfortunately, Soylent is correct. Howver, the prohibition has created an entire economy unto itself, which is why drug prohibition, in the United States at least, will stay for quite some time.

Imagine the number of people employed to tackle the drug issue...DEA agents, corrections officers, lawyers, judges, police, law clerks, Big Pharma providing "treatments", etc, etc, etc. Now imagine the loss of tax revenue those people pay back into the system.

Sad, sad world we live in when an entire economy is built around peoples' weaknesses, instead of strengths.


I completely disagree with you.

If I legalized all drugs right now I could employ the entire DEA and all other related law enforcement individuals.

Here's the pattern and plan:

The DEA is a para military organization equipped to enforce drug laws. If the laws change, so does the purpose. To grow tobacco as a commercial farmer you require licensing, subsidization, etc provided to you through one of two organizations, a) the IRS, a paramilitary organization equipped to enforce tax code. or b) the AFT, a paramilitary organization equipped to enfoc e the trade laws governing tobacco, firearms and alcohol.

So the DEA stays as the DEA and now the people responsible for booking suspects and performing paperwork investigations hand out growers stamps and distribution licenses. The armed employees are now enforcement officials enforcing the proper means and standards to ensure the product is safe, and like the ATF, in cases of deviation from the law, to physically arbitrate and oversee assumption of control and accounting for said assets.

So the DEA is safe and the IRS can handle the taxes(as they always do).

Corrections officers: I'm sure they'll greatly appreciate the additional safety they'll have by being confronted with 1 on 5 situations as opposed to 400 on 5. And with the additional tax money rolling in they may be able to enjoy a pay increase.

The legal system as a whole will greatly benefit and the average citizen will be able to engage in legal recourse as offered without the prohibitive costs.

Tax revenue is a no brainer.

Now the real reason why you won't see legalization happen in short order is because of the other "shadow economy".

When prohibition was taken off of the books of law who benefitted the most? The "outlaw" rum runners suddenly garnered giant political connections.

There is one prime example of criminal enterprise post-prohibition shaping the nation with their ill-gotten gains.

The Kennedy family.