Dec. 4, 2006 Scientists in Italy are reporting development of a method for more accurate estimates of the amount of illicit drug use in a community.
Sara Castiglioni and colleagues note that current estimates of community-wide illicit drug use are based on indirect methods--such as population surveys, crime statistics and interviews--that tend to be unreliable.
In a report scheduled for the Dec. 15 issue of ACS's Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal, they describe the first application of an analytical technique that directly determines the amounts of a wide variety of illicit drugs in wastewater collected at sewage treatment plants. Termed high pressure liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry, the tool can detect amphetamines, cocaine, THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) and other drugs.
The test identifies drugs and drug byproducts that illicit drug users excrete in their urine. Those compounds pass through sewage treatment plants and may appear in rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water.
In addition to making better estimates of population-wide drug use, the technique also could provide a way to monitor drug use and changing patterns of drug use in real time, the researchers state. They previously developed a similar test for cocaine, and used it to suggest that cocaine use was more prevalent than once believed.
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