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The plan to test cities’ sewage for drugs: mass surveillance?

Published on January 25, 2017

Nearly every drug you ingest 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. For example, Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, a senior researcher at the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute has been scouring wastewater for drugs in King County and elsewhere for eight years.


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.

Continue reading at Motherboard Vice

​Originally published on Motherboard by Troy Farah
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