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Sewage Reveals Patterns of Illicit Drug Use

Is your neighborhood using? Researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Washington have devised technology that analyzes what’s been flushed down the toilet to measure how many speed freaks and coke heads you’ve got living down the street.

A report published in the  Dec. 15 edition of the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology describes a new test that uses standard chemical analytical methods to look at  what  stuff makes its way through the municipal sewer systems to wastewater treatment plants. There, the test can measure levels of drugs including illegal substances like crystal methamphetamine.  Unlike previous methods, the technique does not require expensive and time-consuming sample preparation, making it a practical for comparing drug use in different regions.

The communal drug test was developed by looking at effluent from seven communities, identified in the report only by region (south, west, northeast and midwest). Maybe it is a good idea to take steps like reworking the formulation for Sudafed, which has been used as a  raw material for making crystal meth.  Overall, the study found the highest meth concentrations ever measured anywhere, based on samplings  at four plants located in the south and west of the U.S.  But, phew, coke in sewage was only comparable to European levels. Privacy from telemarketers is ensured by “no call” lists. Alas, a “no flush” list for your neighborhood is probably a non-starter.

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