A liter of wastewater from a city's main sewer suffices to establish a pattern of drug intake. The sample is sent for analysis to the research lab Swetox in Södertälje in Greater Stockholm, where modern technology discovers traces of cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis. About fifty local authorities have on several occasions analyzed their wastewater, Swetox biochemist Johan Lindberg told SVT.
Unbeknownst to them, the residents of the Swedish city of Gävle supply urine samples to be tested for residual drugs four times a year. Although it is not possible to identify individual users, the technology is precise enough to establish that the residents of Gävle (population 71,000) snorted no less than 230 doses of cocaine on Christmas Day. And this is no record. On one day in 2015, a total of 7,349 doses of cannabis were consumed, which does not necessarily correspond with the number of individuals.
According to Gävle Municipality drug coordinator Johnny Gustafsson, this technique was a good complement to the traditional survey methods, which basically involve asking around.
"We'll discover a lot more abuse this way," Johnny Gustafsson told SVT.
Although monitoring is usually performed on entire municipal sewer systems, analysis may be done on smaller geographical areas as well. It is therefore entirely possible for a principal to allow analysis of a whole school or a prison director to run a collective test on the inmates. There are no ethical or legal obstacles because no individuals are singled out in the process.
"It is ethically problematic to officially recognize a neighborhood as having problems with drug abuse. Residents may no longer want to stay there then," Johnny Magnusson told SVT.
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