Even if you refuse to pee in a cup and never submit to a drug test in your life, authorities can still check your effluvia for drugs, as a recent episode in Auckland, New Zealand has demonstrated.
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city—and Auckland has a serious methamphetamine problem. No citizen can deny it: They’ve provided the evidence, currently flowing underneath them through the city’s sewers.
Auckland has more than 1.6 million people. Drug testing each and every one of them would be a titanic undertaking (as well as a mass invasion of privacy), but researchers at Massey University hit upon a way to test everyone’s pee without having them pee into 1.6 million individual cups. Researchers went instead to the city’s two wastewater treatment plants, where wastewater was tested for evidence of 17 illegal drugs—excluding cannabis, but including codeine, cocaine and meth.
And according to results of the tests, conducted every day between May and July of 2014, meth and several opiate and opiate derivatives were discovered with “high frequency,” with MDMA and other drugs following behind.
The sewer tests reveal not only how much and which drugs Aucklanders are taking but also when they take them. Since nearly every other recreational drug aside from cannabis is water soluble, evidence of use is discharged every time the body gives off water within a slim window of time, usually a few days, immediately following use.
Here’s an “inside” look at locals’ drug habits, courtesy of the New Zealand Herald:
Methamphetamine, codeine and other opioids were detected at a consistent level throughout weekdays, while ecstasy and methylone, a common ecstasy substitute, were detected only during the weekends.
Opiates and meth were detected almost every day the sewer water was tested. In other words, opiates and meth are drugs of chronic abuse.
“The consistent use of amphetamine and methamphetamine suggests their use is not limited to late-night weekend partying,” said lead researcher Chris Wilkins, an associate professor at Massey University. “I think methamphetamine use is a concern, and this is confirming that this is a serious problem.”
Curiously, researchers also found raw cocaine and not cocaine derivatives broken down by the body, suggesting someone flushed a supply of the white lady down the toilet in a hurry.
What the research doesn’t show is who is using them and in what quantity. The tests turned up a mean of 360 milligrams of methamphetamine per 1,000 people, but there’s no way to tell if it was a few people using lots of drugs or a lot of people using less drugs, Wilkins told the paper.
Also uncertain is what use this data will be, and to whom.
Wilkins thinks that the police could use this information, though cops who spoke to the Herald said they weren’t quite yet sure how or to what purpose. Undeterred, Wilkins also suggested that similar tests could be conducted in other cities, big and small, in order to determine what’s in bodies of the citizens.
“It’s actually a really excellent way to gain data on a whole lot of health measures for a population,” he said. “It could be used to include anything from diet to alcohol and tobacco use.”
Or, if Big Brother really wanted to, deny everyone in a particular city or neighborhood employment, kind of like how we do already.