❝ Nearly every drug you snort, inject, smoke, butt-plug, vaporize or freebase eventually ends up back in the water supply via your excrement. The fish love it—well, maybe not the ones mutating from it. But apparently crabs and trout aren’t the only ones sifting through your waste.
Across the globe, researchers at wastewater treatment plants are testing for psychoactive substances passed by drug users through their feces and urine. The data can be incredibly valuable, letting scientists and law enforcement quickly track drug use trends and identify new substances on the market. It can also measure the impact of drug policy strategies, even highlight which days of the week drug use spikes (cocaine on the weekends, anyone?).
But with this research comes some ethical entanglements. Testing waste could help anticipate the sharp rise in carfentanil or fentanyl overdoses, for example, by detecting the drug in sewage. But the same strategies can be used to stigmatize against certain populations, and as we’ve seen with the War on Drugs in the US, this could have lasting consequences for those communities.
❝ The ability to work upstream to find individual drug users is available to law enforcement, if they choose—for now, such a narrow focus is too costly to be worth it…
In the meantime, it has been suggested police use wastewater data to “guide decisions at strategic and/or operational levels” or “assess the market share held by criminal groups.”
Mr. Holier-than-thou has made it clear he doesn’t approve of legalizing cannabis. His soon-to-be Attorney General is even more backwards prattling 1930’s monologues about weed as a gateway drug. So, keep on eye on what new official government vehicles show up at your local sewer plant. They may be testing for more than coliform bacteria.