What does your sewage say about your town’s drug habits

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Understanding the amount that a certain population is using when it comes to drugs is an important statistic. It helps highlight trends, usage patterns and sheer amounts used, but how are researchers, law enforcement, governments and special interest groups going to identify just how much a community, city or state is using when it comes to drugs like cocaine, marijuana and amphetamines? In the past surveys have been sent out and could be anonymously filled out by citizens of a certain area, but are people always going to be honest on a survey? Even if it is anonymous people may deny drug use anyway out of fear of being arrested and charged with drug possession. Or they may fear that the information will be leaked in some way that will hurt them in the future. Well, it seems there is a new way to track drug use without filling out a form or survey. The author of Washington state’s recreational marijuana law has suggested that in a town called Spokane, the sewage should be tested for traces of the cannabis chemical known as THC. The idea behind the testing is to see how accurate of a picture the government can get of the usage patterns of those using marijuana in the area. It should be noted that recreational use of pot in Washington is now legal, but authorities would still like to understand and break down usage amounts to study the results.

The idea to test the sewage for THC was proposed by an American civil liberties union lawyer by the name of Alison Holcomb at a City Council’s meeting that was discussing marijuana policy. A scientist at the University of Washington said Holcomb’s idea made sense and was a good idea.

“It’s always good for a chuckle, but it does actually work,” Caleb Banta-Green, a researcher at the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, said Wednesday. Banta-Green has tested sewage in Oregon and Washington for the presence of illegal drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine.

Holcomb said recently that testing the sewage for THC will provide more accurate results and trends than any survey could, due to the fact that she believes the surveys are often filled out dishonestly. According to Banta-Green there is a lot to be learned from testing the sewage. For instance it could provide valuable information such as the quantities of drugs a community is consuming, along with the days of the week that they are using most heavily. According to Banta-Green the tests in Oregon revealed that meth users tend to consume drugs daily, while cocaine users tend to use the most on weekends, possibly at parties, bars and nightclubs.

Obviously there are people interested in these results. Especially policymakers, schools, law enforcement, nonprofits and local government. The results will only provide general information, but it is helpful to know usage patterns in the local community in order to address the potential problems that may arise such as growing numbers of drug use and addiction.



What does your sewage say about your town’s drug habits