Editor’s Note: Today we welcome guest blogger Toine Pieters, senior lecturer and researcher at the VU-Medical Center in Amsterdam (since 1998) and professor of the History of Pharmacy at the universities of Groningen and Utrecht (since 2008). Working at the intersection of psycho-pharmacology, addiction studies, genetics and eugenics, he is the author of Interferon: The Science and Selling of a Miracle Drug (London, 2005) as well as a host of diverse papers. In addition to teaching and writing, he also is the project manager of WAHSP and BIland: Web applications for historical sentiment mining in public media. Pieters will be guest blogging at Points intermittently through the fall– we hope with a whole slate of provocative topics like today’s.
Archaeologists love to dig into trash as a source of information for reconstructing the past. Biochemical researchers have followed suit with another kind of waste: sewage.
Over the past decade a new promising technique based on the analysis of urinary drug biomarkers in sewage has been developed to estimate drug use by specific populations. This approach has been referred to as ‘sewage epidemiology’. Throughout last year, researchers from 19 different European countries studied illicit drug use by chemically sifting through the sewers. What does the study tell us about monitoring drug use?
The claim is that screening for drugs that pass through the body and then get flushed down the toilet is a faster and more reliable way to assess a community’s drug use than the time consuming data gathering tools currently available: population surveys and indirect estimates of drug production and seizure. The major assumption is that a sample of waste water is representative of a pooled urine sample of the entire population in the study area.