Big Brother may soon be watching you…well, your sewage anyway.
Remarkably, scientists at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society presented a prototype of a technique that will soon be used to detect the level of drug metabolites passing through a certain area’s sewage in real time. The testing will reveal levels of meth amphetamine, cocaine, marijuana and even legal opiates such as oxycontin or ephedrine.
Although people lie…urine is apparently quite truthful, and researchers explain that this new methodology, once employed, will give both law enforcement and public health groups much better information about the true levels of substance abuse as it is occurring within our communities, and in real time.
Currently drug taking estimates are conjured from a mixture of self reporting (people may be reluctant to admit to an illegal activity) medical records information and police reports, which together give us a somewhat vague notion of drug use as it’s happening in particular areas. The information may be used to help allocate public health, education and prevention dollars into the communities suffering the highest rates of drug use and abuse, and the information could also be used as information by law enforcement officials looking for evidence of illegal activity within an area or even a residence.
Rights to privacy…after a flush?
I’m no lawyer, but I’d wager that once you flush the toilet you lose any claim to privacy over the contents of the bowl, and this could be a boon to police looking to cobble together cases with a new and scientific form of drug taking evidence.
As always, science is neutral, but what we chose to make of it never is. I’m not a fan of the criminalization of the consumption of drugs, and even though I loathe drugs for what they’ve taken from me and my family, I do not believe that someone harming only themselves deserves imprisonment for this offence. Our Nation’s prisons are already absurdly full of non violent drug offenders, and with ever greater methods of ensnaring these users, will we need to continue our frantic prison building?
On the other hand though, if this technology is used as a means of gathering better data for use by public health officials towards better treatment initiatives and targeted community intervention, then I welcome this remarkable and astonishing new science into the public arena. No doubt it will occur within both the spheres of justice and health, and we’ll have to take a bit of the good with the bad.
I confess to finding it a bit disturbing, even though I no longer have anything I need to hide.