One Big Drug Test

One Big Drug Test
Posted by CN Staff on June 23, 2008 at 05:38:21 PT
By Marla Cone, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
Source: Los Angeles Times
USA -- Which city uses more cocaine: Los Angeles or London? Is heroin a big problem in San Diego? And has Ecstasy emerged in rural America?Environmental scientists are beginning to use an unsavory new tool -- raw sewage -- to paint an accurate portrait of drug abuse in communities. Like one big, citywide urinalysis, tests at municipal sewage plants in many areas of the United States and Europe, including Los Angeles County, have detected illicit drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana.
Law enforcement officials have long sought a way to come up with reliable and verifiable calculations of narcotics use, to identify new trends and formulate policies. Surveys, the backbone of drug-use estimates, are only as reliable as the people who answer them. But sewage does not lie.Since people excrete chemicals in urine and flush it down toilets, measuring raw sewage for street drugs can provide quick, fairly precise snapshots of drug use in communities, even on a particular day.The results have been intriguing: Methamphetamine levels in sewage are much higher in Las Vegas than in Omaha and Oklahoma City, Okla. Los Angeles County has more cocaine in its sewage than several major European cities. And Londoners apparently are heavier users of heroin than people in cities in Italy and Switzerland."Every sample has one illicit drug or another, regardless of location," said Jennifer Field, an environmental chemist at Oregon State University who has tested sewage in many U.S. cities. "You may see differences from place to place, but there's always something."The new practice of testing sewage has illuminated an environmental threat: Many urban waterways around the world are contaminated with low doses of cocaine and other illicit drugs from treated sewage.So far, this "sewage forensics" or "sewage epidemiology" has not been widespread. Treatment plants do not regularly monitor sewage for street drugs. The Environmental Protection Agency is planning to add illicit drugs to the array of substances that could be monitored daily at treatment plants.Unlike prescription drugs and personal care products, which are a hot topic in environmental contamination, illicit drugs have long been below the radar.Christian Daughton, chief of environmental chemistry at the EPA's National Exposure Research Laboratory, first proposed the tests in 2001."To me, chemicals are chemicals. All chemicals, whether legal or illegal, have the potential to get into the environment, and living organisms have a potential to be exposed," Daughton said.Daughton, who was interested in environmental ramifications, realized that the data could help law enforcement, sociologists and others trying to gauge trends in drug abuse.Most of those experts rely on door-to-door annual surveys, which are based on questioning of 70,000 people nationwide. Based on that, they estimate more than 20 million Americans used illicit drugs in 2006.Scientists in Italy, led by Roberto Fanelli and Ettore Zuccato, were the first to implement his idea, testing sewage in Milan, London and Lugano, Switzerland in 2005.Amphetamines, including ecstasy, were the least prevalent drugs in the three cities, while marijuana was widely detected, the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research reported in the online version of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives to their work, published last month.For every 1,000 people, about 210 milligrams of heroin were used daily in London, compared with 70 in Milan and 100 in Lugano. Amphetamine use also was higher in London.The scientists were even able to use sewage to estimate individual use and weekly trends. For instance, they estimated that people in Milan used twice as much cocaine, about 35 grams per person per year, than Italy's government surveys had suggested.Cocaine use peaked on Saturdays, while heroin and marijuana use remained steady weeklong.In the United States, officials at the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy looked for cocaine in sewage from Los Angeles County and 23 other regions in 2006.Untreated sewage at all eight treatment plants tested in Los Angeles County contained cocaine metabolite, according to data obtained from the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts. Palmdale and Lancaster had the highest concentrations, averaging 3.5 parts per billion. The lowest, averaging 1.4 ppb, were from Long Beach and Valencia.In all the Los Angeles County locations, the cocaine metabolite was more concentrated than in Omaha and in Italian, Swiss and British cities, which all contained less than 1 ppb, according to a comparison of several studies.Other tests have shown that some U.S. cities have a bigger methamphetamine problem than Europe. Within the U.S., Las Vegas' concentrations were five times higher than Omaha's and twice Oklahoma City's, said Field, who conducted those tests.Comparing cities can be tricky. Concentrations can fluctuate due to volumes of flow, the time of day, and how long waste travels through sewers, which gives drugs a chance to degrade."This has caught on only recently, and people are still trying to understand the uncertainties," said Field, who is currently analyzing data from 96 locations in Oregon.Jennifer de Vallance, spokeswoman for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the testing of sewage in 2006 was an experiment to see if it could provide useful data to federal drug officials at a low cost."It came back very favorable. Our determination was that it probably could be done on a larger scale," she said.EPA Assistant Administrator Benjamin Grumbles said that EPA and the national drug office are "working on the details" of a voluntary program at sewage plants that will test for illicit drugs."This is sensitive for various communities because these substances do have a stigma attached to them," Daughton said. San Diego, for example, refused to grant permission to researchers.The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County don't test for illicit drugs because it would need Drug Enforcement Administration permits to handle controlled substances, said supervising engineer Ann Heil."It's too hard to test for it. We can't have morphine lying around to calibrate equipment," she said.Some researchers are now checking the environment for illicit drugs. Traces of prescription drugs have been detected in some drinking water supplies, while cocaine and other drugs have been found in rivers. No one has tested drinking water for illicit drugs."Since most of these residues still have potent pharmacological activities, their presence in the aquatic environment may have potential implications for human health and wildlife," the scientists from Milan reported in February.Although few researchers are studying the effect of these ultra-low does, scientists say the threat to people is probably minimal. To get a typical dose of cocaine, someone would have to drink 1,000 liters of raw sewage, Field said.For now, this new drug test remains anonymous. Wastewater from thousands, sometimes millions, of people is pooled at treatment plants, so it cannot be tracked to any individual or specific location.But because waste also can be tested in local sewers, questions about privacy have been raised."You could take this down to a community, a street, even a house," Daughton said. "You can do all kinds of stuff with this. It's sort of unlimited."Note: Experts are examining the outflow in several U.S. and European cities, and the data can be surprising.Complete Title: One Big Drug Test: Analyzing a City's Sewage Can Put a Number on Its VicesSource: Los Angeles Times (CA)Author:  Marla Cone, Los Angeles Times Staff WriterPublished: June 22, 2008Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles TimesContact: letters latimes.comWebsite: Drug Testing Archives
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Comment #14 posted by john wayne on June 30, 2008 at 14:08:33 PT
Methamphetamine is not illicit.
In fact, it is prescribed to children.
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Comment #13 posted by FoM on June 24, 2008 at 15:01:45 PT
Carlin Remembered
Carlin Remembered: He Helped Other Comics with Drug Problems,,20208460,00.html
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Comment #12 posted by museman on June 23, 2008 at 08:41:30 PT
George Carlin
I first saw George Carlin in 1974 in Bakersfield Ca at Bakersfield College.It was his most famous act; all the words you can't say on television.George was a major contributor to the revolution of consciousness that the status quo would like to say is dead. He took some very serious subjects, a well as silly human taboos, and delivered stark revelation wrapped in his one-of-a-kind style of humor.We just lost another hero.
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Comment #11 posted by Zandor on June 23, 2008 at 08:20:23 PT
Problem with testing not being reported.
The part of the testing they are NOT telling people is how many legal drugs have illegal drugs as their base component. There are so many pain pills for example that have illegal drugs mixed with them but they are still legal. They don't know how to tell the difference so they are just calling everything illegal drugs just to make their point!This is not even science based just more hype and BS results to scare people.That's the Republican way of doing business....keep the people stupid and scared our of their mind and they will not notice just how bad the Republicans really are for the country and for the economy. This is JUNK science at best!
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Comment #10 posted by FoM on June 23, 2008 at 07:42:48 PT
I believe he will be remembered as one of the greatest comedians of our generation. Here's one more that I really enjoyed. He opened our eyes.George Carlin - Drugs
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Comment #9 posted by Hope on June 23, 2008 at 07:37:03 PT
George Carlin
He gave us laughter and joy. I'm sad that he's not going to be thinking of more ways to make us laugh, but I'm grateful that we're left with so much of his work.He was a gift to us all and his memory and work will be cherished.
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Comment #8 posted by Hope on June 23, 2008 at 07:34:28 PT
The War on Drugs
has more ways to waste resources and swindle the people than a centipede has legs.
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Comment #7 posted by FoM on June 23, 2008 at 07:22:04 PT
One More In Memory of George Carlin
Seven Words
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Comment #6 posted by FoM on June 23, 2008 at 07:06:50 PT
He was a great comedian. I just finished watching this one. I have a feeling I will be watching more on Carlin on Youtube today. George Carlin - Religion is Bullshit I'm watching this one.George Carlin Talks About "Stuff"
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Comment #5 posted by BGreen on June 23, 2008 at 07:03:41 PT
George Carlin was my first comedy album
That may sound ungrammatical but it is true. George Carlin was the only thing on that album besides the audience laughter, but he made me laugh so hard, so often.I want to thank George Carlin for making me laugh during my teen years when I really needed something to take away my pain. Little did I know that I would actually be learning a great deal about observational comedy in the process, wrapped in a great big dose of political awareness, both of which helped shape Bud Green into the man he is today.In an age where comedy is defined as somebody being a jackass and getting hurt (or hurting somebody,) I can only hope that somebody can fill his shoes.George always joked that his name never ended ... Geor ge or ge or ge or. I know that the memory of him will also never end.This bud's for you, George. Rest in peace.The Reverend Bud Green
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Comment #4 posted by OverwhelmSam on June 23, 2008 at 06:59:40 PT
Geroge Carlin Would Approve
Showing our respect to a man who saw things the way they really are, under a topic where the government is testing raw sewage to determine if anyone in a city is doing drugs. Save the test! I can assure that people take drugs in every city in America. The extent of drug use is pretty much useless information, unless you are trying to make some ridiculous point about drug use.
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on June 23, 2008 at 06:38:23 PT
George Carlin RIP
I was raised Catholic and went to Parochial School. We went to a Party and heard this for the first time back in the 70s. I will never forget that night hearing him for the first time.***George Carlin - I Used To Be Irish Catholic
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Comment #2 posted by thestales on June 23, 2008 at 06:13:57 PT
How sad!!!! George dying give me chills. what a sad day indeed.
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on June 23, 2008 at 05:45:29 PT
OT: George Carlin Mourned as a Counterculture Hero
June 22, 2008LOS ANGELES (AP)  Acerbic standup comedian and satirist George Carlin, whose staunch defense of free speech in his most famous routine "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television" led to a key Supreme Court ruling on obscenity, has died.Carlin, who had a history of heart trouble, went into St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica on Sunday afternoon complaining of chest pain and died later that evening, said his publicist, Jeff Abraham. He had performed as recently as last weekend at the Orleans Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas. He was 71.Complete Article:
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