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Wastewater Drug Mapping

August 12, 2009

Testing wastewater for drugs may help scientists track regional changes in drug abuse.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
A city-wide drug test. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If crystal meth use were on the rise in your town, the authorities would want to know. But it’s hard to know that until it’s painfully obvious. Now, epidemiologist Caleb Banta-Green of the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute is trying to keep tabs on drug use by testing the local wastewater.

CALEB BANTA-GREEN (University of Washington):
The idea is to extend a urinalysis of a single person to find out what drugs they’ve consumed recently, to in fact getting a urinalysis for an entire city.

HIRSHON:
On a single day last year, Banta-Green’s colleagues collected sewage from 96 Oregon towns. His team then tested the samples for traces of meth, coke, and ecstasy. Banta-Green says the resulting map jibed with what they already knew about regional drug use patterns. This year, they’re stepping it up by monitoring 20 cities on a weekly basis. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.