Whole cities can be drug tested at once now

City sewers may soon be used to drug test entire populations at once. iStockphoto

The governor of Florida is mulling drug tests for all state workers. The state senate in Louisiana could soon pass legislation to begin randomly drug testing welfare recipients. High school students across the country who simply want to participate in extra-curricular activities already face random drug tests.

While these may be unconstitutional invasions of privacy to critics, and necessary safety measures to proponents, they could soon become outdated ways of making sure a whole population is drug free.

Researchers in Norway have come up with ways of testing sewer samples on a continuous basis to uncover patterns of drug use in large populations, including entire cities.

Technicians have apparently demonstrated "that so-called passive filters provide an efficient and inexpensive means to measure drug use over weeks in municipal wastewater," states an article on the Chemical and Engineering News website.

Testing in Oslo, Norway, showed that levels of the drug ecstasy spiked 10-fold in the city's sewer system while recent high school graduates partied hard during their "Russ" graduation festivities.

Testing of the system has already been underway in cities, including London and San Diego, CEN writes.

The implications to researchers and lawmakers for the city-wide drug testing remains to be seen, but since researchers admit the system is still imperfect, any direct usage may still be some time off. CEN writes that spikes in water flow after snow melts, for example, can throw of researchers calibrations.

Kevin Thomas of the Norwegian Institute for Water Research says this type of testing is actually better for public health workers, who can use it to more accurately study population-wide drug use, which is largely currently done through samples of in-person interviews.

"The nice thing about the sewer approach is it's totally anonymous," Thomas told CEN. Instead of pointing a finger at an individual, he adds, the method points to an entire city.

  • Joshua Norman

    Joshua Norman is a Senior Editor at CBSNews.com.

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