Norwegian Researchers Compile The World's Largest Drug Test

from the pee-in-this-cup-for-me,-EVERYONE dept

Your body is a narc. If you use drugs, your body will always be willing to turn over that information to the appropriate authorities. No one even has to question you. We've all run into someone whose bleary and bloodshot eyes indicate they're stoned or drunk. (Or, very often, both.) A few strands of hair can detail a "lost weekend" with far more clarity than your acid-etched brain.

But, by a large margin, the most popular way to determine recent drug use is every employer's favorite: urinalysis. A couple of ounces of waste byproduct will sell your still-jobless ass out faster than that 14-year-old you sympathetically sold a dime bag of weed. Your body cheerfully fills your bladder full of self-incriminating fluid several times a day, forcing you to excrete damning evidence repeatedly.

Barring a random drug test or pre-employment screening, most of this evidence goes straight down the toilet, much like the half-dozen other baggies did in response to some unexpected door banging. Previously, this would have been the end of the line.

Not any more. News comes back to us via Bruce Sterling that researchers in Norway are sifting through sewage with the thoroughness of potential employers, looking for drug usage patterns amidst the detritus.
The Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) in Oslo and the Mario Negri Institute in Milan led this research initiative, directly collaborating with 11 European research institutes. Raw sewage samples from 19 large European cities were collected by the participants of the study during a single week in March 2011 and analyzed for the urinary biomarkers of cocaine, amphetamine, ecstasy, methamphetamine and cannabis. The total amount of the drugs used by inhabitants of each of the 19 cities was measured and then the results were adjusted for population size.
Fun stuff, I would imagine. (And that's as close to analyzing raw sewage as I care to get -- the imagination level.) Sifting through the murky, anonymous "data" running through the sewers has given the researchers a clearer picture of actual drug use patterns than can be put together using existing methods. The usual methods, police and customs drug seizure records and hospital admission data (possibly including some records of seizures), are combined with other incomplete data sets like questionnaire-based studies. This leaves a few holes in coverage which these researchers believe they can fill with human waste.
"There will always be some uncertainty about the reliability of the results of questionnaire-based studies," he [Dr. Kevin Thomas] said. "Our research approach based on sewer samples of European cities however, yield very accurate and dependable results on the total amount of drugs used. Through sewer research, we can determine how big the drug market in a city is. We can also quickly measure changes in consumption over very short time, such as after a police raid or a customs seizure. Our approach is applicable anywhere. With the right financing we have the potential for the first time to better understand the hard facts about illicit drug use worldwide," Thomas adds.
This would be some interesting data. Measuring dips in usage (or a lack thereof) after a major seizure would certainly help test the efficacy of current anti-drug policies. Of course, major raids could result in a spike of drug content, albeit drugs untainted (yeah -- I'm using that word) by a ride through anything more complicated than a swirling toilet bowl.

Here's what the researchers have found so far, after roaming the sewers of Europe:
Cocaine use was higher in Western and Central Europe and lower in Northern and Eastern Europe. High per capita ecstasy loads were measured in Dutch cities, as well as in Antwerp and London. In general, cocaine and ecstasy loads were significantly elevated during the weekend compared to weekdays. Per capita loads of methamphetamine were highest in Helsinki, Turku, Oslo and Budweis, while per capita loads of cannabis were similar throughout Europe.
Those somewhat familiar with European drug culture may find this to be a little unsurprising. (But not me -- I'm totally acting shocked about these findings.) Weekends are for partying. Anything goes for the Dutch, but especially E. London is still rave central for England. Weed is universal. Meth is nearly as popular. And coke is still for the rich (or at least, the richer) kids.

A followup project researching U.S. cities is underway with results expected next year. I'd be very interested in checking that one out, if only to confirm my suspicion that most Midwestern bathtubs are connected to purloined lab equipment, rather than functioning drainage systems.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Brave Coward, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 7:16pm

    They did just this same thing in Sonoma County,California last year..... this ain't news

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Michael, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 7:46pm

    Been doing this in most u.s. cities for years, although I don't know how much info is shared. Every year I enjoy the Vegas report (mostly allergy meds and meth).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    abc gum, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 8:08pm

    Can't hold back my enthusiasm for the mandatory internet connected toilet with integrated tamperproof urinalysis capabilities, this will be wonderful. It will literally save the our future from certain destruction.

    Sorry - I just finished watching the SouthPark Sarcastiball episode - lmao.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 8:24pm

    your tax dollars hard at work

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    MaJoR (profile), Sep 28th, 2012 @ 10:59pm

    I wonder how prescription drugs would affect this test?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 11:12pm

    Next step: A minilab in every household's sewer tap, and it will be illegal to piss off your back balcony.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 3:41am

    Dirty as charged.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 3:43am

    I bet you hide your weed from your wife, don't you Tim?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Old Fool (profile), Sep 29th, 2012 @ 10:42am

    Enter your zip code here

    I've been getting stoned since the late 60's. I live in England and I see a lot of drug taking, but I have only once seen Methamphetamine. Most young people are clubbing with MDMA or similar hallucinogenic amphetamines.

    They do not search for the drug in sewage (or urine/hair etc), it's the metabolites they look for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Sep 29th, 2012 @ 1:40pm


    I bet you hide your Rohypnol from your "dates," don't you, AC?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    MahaliaShere (profile), Sep 29th, 2012 @ 5:07pm

    Re: Re:


    AC, as the netizens would say, would you like some ice for that burn?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    JeroenW, Sep 30th, 2012 @ 2:54am

    Well, that's insulting!

    "Anything goes for the Dutch"

    I can show you government statistics that the Italians, French and Spanish use more pot and just about any other country uses more meth than we do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2012 @ 7:27am

    I love it!! A map of where to go to party.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    davnel, Sep 30th, 2012 @ 9:19am

    Ground Sharks Will Attack

    I think I remember an article, years ago, where an attorney successfully argued in court that evidence from a defendant's trash was not admissable (might have been a warrant issue?). That being the case, when do they start excluding sewage (or requiring warrants - "Yer Honor, we need to dig through this perp's poop to find out if he done it".)?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2012 @ 10:03am


    Your tax dollars? Hard at work... in Norway. Why do Americans seem to think that the whole world is America. When Norwegians do a study it is not your American tax dollars that are spent on it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2012 @ 2:31pm

    Re: Re:

    So where IS the foreign aid the American taxpayers are so graciously forced to provide going?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2012 @ 2:34pm

    Re: Well, that's insulting!

    America's taught them well. Take that asinine stunt Lady Gaga recently pulled, for example.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Ninja (profile), Oct 1st, 2012 @ 4:14am

    And the lesson learned here is: don't pee on your workplace (or at the place you are being interviewed for a job).

    Big Brother has just unveiled another surveillance tool ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    J__M__M, Oct 1st, 2012 @ 8:49pm

    been there

    Done that, and guess what? Usage spikes on the weekends! It's true!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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