The Drug War Goes Into the Sewers

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Over at Below the Beltway, Doug Mataconis points to a Wash Post article documenting a new low in the War on Drugs: Feds are now contemplating checking out wastewater for "the urinary byproducts of cocaine":

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said it is not seeking to single out specific localities. It also is premature, officials said, to conclude that levels of metabolized cocaine in sewage offer a more accurate index of consumption than traditional survey research.

But David Murray, special assistant to national drug czar John P. Walters, said wastewater testing, which has been tried in Europe, "certainly has that potential."

"We think it will be very, very useful," Murray said.

Can you piss into the same coke-laced river twice? Whole thing here.

Bonus: Reason interviewed David Murray some years back, when he was co-director of STATs (see below) and had coauthored the good book It Ain't Necessarily So: How Media Make and Unmake the Scientific Picture of Reality. See what obsession with drugs can do to you kids?

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  1. Let’s have a pissing contest over who can come up with the best snide comments.

  2. Cocaine Rivers – By High P. Freely

  3. Guess it’s time to start pissing into mason jars like Howard Hughes. To really fuck with them, dump it all in a river somewhere out in Mormon country.

  4. DEA agents up to their necks in human waste? Sounds good to me.
    No tests will be performed near the ONDCP, since the assay would be fouled up by the river of bullshit.

  5. In other drug prohibition news, Nikki Sudden has died:

    http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1002236579

    The article doesn’t say that the cause of death is an accidental overdose, but I’d being willing to bet some money on that. I am hugely sad today.

  6. It would be interesting to see whether a court would consider this to be something that requires a warrant if it was to be used in criminal prosecutions. My inclination is to say “No”, based on the case law dealing with the right to search garbage. On the other hand, through public health laws and regulations, city and county governments effectively force their citizens in most locales to dispose of their bodily wastes exclusively through the government controlled sewage system, which raises questions about the ability to keep the information private.

  7. This discriminates against people who use plumbing. (Meaning it’s safe for many homeless people and R. Kelly.)

  8. Wading through shit is the only thing DEA agents are good for anyway.

  9. city and county governments effectively force their citizens in most locales to dispose of their bodily wastes exclusively through the government controlled sewage system, which raises questions about the ability to keep the information private.

    This was my first thought as well. Look for an influx of middle class users to move to rural areas and use a septic tank 🙂

  10. It’s almost impossible to connect unidentified urine to its, er, source. (Urine is sterile; there shouldn’t be any cellular material in it. If your urine has enough cells or cell fragments in it to obtain a DNA sample, you probably have severe kidney disease or at least a really bad bladder infection.) That’s why they’re so careful to make you label the sample at the doctor or drug tester’s office, because they can’t connect the sample to you without the label. Consequently, I can’t see how in a million years this sort of thing would be useful to a prosecutor. All this will disclose is that someone whose plumbing disgorges into a particular wastewater plant used cocaine within the amount of time it takes to metabolize into urine. (FWIW: about three days.) If the tests show enormous amounts of metabolite, it might be useful to point up what a waste the drug war has been, but I cannot imagine any other result.

  11. Consequently, I can’t see how in a million years this sort of thing would be useful to a prosecutor. All this will disclose is that someone whose plumbing disgorges into a particular wastewater plant used cocaine within the amount of time it takes to metabolize into urine.

    If they’re going to test at wastewater plants, you can be damned sure they’re going to start moving closer to the source…

  12. I think the idea is to identify the best neighborhoods to target for enforcement.

  13. Wonder if the ONDCP will reveal the results if it comes out similar to Europe.

  14. Oh man oh man. What a colossal waste of resources.
    Let them do it anyway. Given the way their mind appears to work, just imagine what they’d come up with if they weren’t dreaming up something new in the war on drugs.
    I have often wondered, what makes these prohibitionists of all stripes tick?

  15. Baylen,

    Dude, that’s wrong. I love it.

  16. So estimates show that less than 1% of Fairfax county residents have used cocaine in the past month. If the new wastewater results are similar to Europe – and the DEA finds the actual use is double – then maybe 2% has used in the past month. Does the DEA declare victory in the War on Drugs – it’s only 2%, after all. Or does it start a new media blitz with coke as the new epidemic? Actual usage IS DOUBLE, after all.

  17. sage +P,

    Thanks. Glad you caught it. thoreau said “get snide,” so i had no choice.

  18. “If they’re going to test at wastewater plants, you can be damned sure they’re going to start moving closer to the source”

    That was my exact thought. If this is effective, and can be done cheaply enough, then they could randomly check neighborhoods. If one street/development was generating particularly high levels, the next step is to test the outflow from each house (which could be done at the point where the household discharge joins the street line, which almost always is on public property, so no warrant issue there). In the absence of some sort of judicially created rule concluding that sort of testing is improper without a warrant, I’m pretty sure that a court would find that persistently high levels of cocaine metabolites coming from a particular house would be sufficient to give probable cause to get a search warrant for the property itself.

  19. (which could be done at the point where the household discharge joins the street line,…

    Very few (if any) sewer systems have access to the line at this point. And access at this point is not something that can be done with any level of subterfuge. Also sewer lines only have something to sample immediately after a flush (or washerload or whatever).

    So by the time you knew someone was there you could just flush a bunch of fresh water and piss in a bucket until they were gone.

    No I think this is only useful for determining community trends. Any attempt to get individual household samples could not meet any cost/benefit standards (but when did that stop them, eh?).

    I tend to think this might not be that bad. After all, I’d rather they were down at the plant sampling effluent than out on the streets hassling me.

  20. “Can you piss into the same coke-laced river twice?”

    Oh, the fish-manity!
    Will no one think of the fish?

  21. You know some birds are not meant to be caged, their feathers are just too bright…………………..(Shawshank Redemption)

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