Mapping Drug Use by Testing Sewer Water
Scientists from Oregon State University, the University of Washington and McGill University partnered with city workers in 96 communities, including Pendleton, Hermiston and Umatilla, to gather samples on one day, March 4, 2008. The scientists then tested the samples for evidence of methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy, or MDMA.
Addiction specialists were not surprised by the researchers’ central discovery, that every one of the 96 cities — representing 65 percent of Oregon’s population — had a quantifiable level of methamphetamine in its wastewater.
“This validates what we suspected about methamphetamine use in Oregon,” said Geralyn Brennan, addiction prevention epidemiologist for the Department of Human Services.
Drug researchers previously determined the extent of illicit drug use through mortality records and random surveys, which are not considered entirely reliable. Survey respondents may not accurately recall how much or how often they use illicit drugs and they may not be willing to tell the truth. Surveys also gathered information about large regions of the state, not individual cities.
The data gathered from municipal wastewater, however, are concrete and reveal a detailed snapshot of drug use for that day. Researchers placed cities into ranks based on a drug’s “index load” – average milligrams per person per day.
These techniques can detect drug usage at individual houses. It’s just a matter of where you take your samples.