Scientists drug-test whole cities


macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Very interesting....

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer Tue Aug 21, 9:05 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Researchers have figured out how to give an entire community a drug test using just a teaspoon of wastewater from a city's sewer plant.

The test wouldn't be used to finger any single person as a drug user. But it would help federal law enforcement and other agencies track the spread of dangerous drugs, like methamphetamines, across the country.

Oregon State University scientists tested 10 unnamed American cities for remnants of drugs, both legal and illegal, from wastewater streams. They were able to show that they could get a good snapshot of what people are taking.

"It's a community urinalysis," said Caleb Banta-Green, a University of Washington drug abuse researcher who was part of the Oregon State team. The scientists presented their results Tuesday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

Two federal agencies have taken samples from U.S. waterways to see if drug testing a whole city is doable, but they haven't gotten as far as the Oregon researchers.

One of the early results of the new study showed big differences in methamphetamine use city to city. One urban area with a gambling industry had meth levels more than five times higher than other cities. Yet methamphetamine levels were virtually nonexistent in some smaller Midwestern locales, said Jennifer Field, the lead researcher and a professor of environmental toxicology at Oregon State.

The ingredient Americans consume and excrete the most was caffeine, Field said.

Cities in the experiment ranged from 17,000 to 600,000 in population, but Field declined to identify them, saying that could harm her relationship with the sewage plant operators.

She plans to start a survey for drugs in the wastewater of at least 40 Oregon communities.

The science behind the testing is simple. Nearly every drug — legal and illicit — that people take leaves the body. That waste goes into toilets and then into wastewater treatment plants.

"Wastewater facilities are wonderful places to understand what humans consume and excrete," Field said.

In the study presented Tuesday, one teaspoon of untreated sewage water from each of the cities was tested for 15 different drugs. Field said researchers can't calculate how many people in a town are using drugs.

She said that one fairly affluent community scored low for illicit drugs except for cocaine. Cocaine and ecstasy tended to peak on weekends and drop on weekdays, she said, while methamphetamine and prescription drugs were steady throughout the week.

Field said her study suggests that a key tool currently used by drug abuse researchers — self-reported drug questionnaires — underestimates drug use.

"We have so few indicators of current use," said Jane Maxwell of the Addiction Research Institute at the University of Texas, who wasn't part of the study. "This could be a very interesting new indicator."

David Murray, chief scientist for U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the idea interests his agency.

Murray said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is testing federal wastewater samples just to see if that's a good method for monitoring drug use. But he didn't know how many tests were conducted or where.

The EPA will "flush out the details" on testing, Benjamin Grumbles joked. The EPA assistant administrator said the agency is already looking at the problem of potential harm to rivers and lakes from legal pharmaceuticals.

The idea of testing on a citywide basis for drugs makes sense, as long as it doesn't violate people's privacy, said Tom Angell of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a Washington-based group that wants looser drug laws.

"This seems to be less offensive than individualized testing," he said.
I love how coke and ecstasy peak on weekends while meth stays consistent


macrumors 68030
Dec 21, 2004
Well, there goes my appetite.

Actually, this makes me feel a bit violated. It's just like another way for Big Brother to keep another tab on the people.


macrumors 6502a
Jun 7, 2007
Very interesting....

I love how coke and ecstasy peak on weekends while meth stays consistent
That just goes to show how dangerous meth is. It completely takes over your life and becomes an all-consuming addiction.


macrumors 68040
Jun 27, 2006
Rhode Island
I personally see nothing wrong with it. There's no way of telling who's doing the drugs through this. It's like an anonymous survey. :)

Though it is pretty scary that I might be drinking somebody's excreted cocaine. So that's what happened to me. :rolleyes:


macrumors G4
Jun 29, 2002
Republic of Ukistan
Wonderful. We're all getting destroyed because of some morons addiction.
Perhaps we're all getting destroyed by some moron's toiletries. I hardly think microscopic traces of used cocaine are the worst contaminants we have to deal with. Excreted traces of oral contraceptives are far more likely to cause problems.


macrumors 603
Dec 19, 2002
Why don't they try testing a high school? :p
I thought of that when I was in high would have been easy for the school to monitor for drug use in the dorms. I'm glad they never got the idea. Big Brother for real.

Someone involved with the 'war on drugs' will come up with the brilliant idea of having automated sensors at the connections between houses and sewer mains and we'll have an environmental catastrophe as all of the druggies start pissing outdoors. :p