The Glamour of Science: Researchers Search Poop for Evidence of Illicit Drugs

Note: This post originally ran in 2010 on True/Slant. Who knows when they will wipe their archives, so I’m moving some of my posts here.

Scientists say they’ve found a better way to map the use of drugs over entire regions — sample untreated human waste for traces of illicit compounds.

The goal of the research is to better quantify drug use. Today, people mostly look at aftermath events like drug-related arrests, ER visits and deaths investigated by medical examiners.

But some have contended that those practices inaccurately skew stats toward urban communities.

study published last year could prove them right:

Researchers studied wastewater samples from 96 municipal water treatment facilities throughout Oregon. These represented one-day snapshots of 65 percent of the state’s population’s sewage. The results show that drugs are found in all sorts of communities — everywhere from small, rural towns to suburbs and inner cities.

via Sewage as a Measure of Society’s Drug Use | DrugReporter | AlterNet.

The cities and towns agreed to take samples at about the same time on March 4, 2008, and the specimens were tested for traces of ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Also among the findings: Meth is used everywhere — on farms, in suburbs and in the projects. Coke is more popular in cities, as is ecstasy, though fewer than half of the communities tested showed any evidence of ecstasy use.

Before anyone starts building latrines, the scientists say it’s impossible to link drug compounds with individual people. Drugs are chemicals and DNA is a biological molecule, which, they say, means you can’t tie poopy coke (or cokey poop, depending on the habit) to the actual excreter.

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