Scientists are dipping into city sewers in search of drugs for the same reason people on parole take urine tests instead of surveys. People often lie when responding to questionnairss, but your toilet cannever lies. The technique, known as sewer epidemiology, uses automated wastewater sampling equipment and was recently used to compare illicit drug use across 19 European cities,perhaps forecasting what might be the future of population-wide drug testing. This approach is a result of some of the pitfalls of questionnaires on illicit drug use, as people often avoid them and even when they don't, their answers are not always accurate. Even sincere people probably couldn't tell you how much coke they consume in a typical line (which is about 100 milligrams). Sewers, on the other hand, positively reek with honesty. They also draw from an unprecedentedly massive sample population. "In countries where you have well-developed sewage collection networks, everyone has to go to the toilet, and most people use a toilet that's connected to a sewer system," explains Kevin Thomas, an ecotoxicologist at the Norwegian Institute for Water Research in Oslo, Norway. "At the end of the day," he says, "sewage is just a really big urine sample."
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