HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Sewage Tested For Signs Of Cocaine
Pubdate: Mon, 27 Mar 2006
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: B1
Copyright: 2006 The Washington Post Company
Author: Bill Turque
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


Fairfax Participating In Federal Program To Assess Drug Use

If government studies are a reliable guide, about 25,000 residents of 
Fairfax County -- 2.5 percent of its population -- have used cocaine 
in the past year. The same data from the National Survey on Drug Use 
and Health suggest that about 9,000 have partaken within the past 30 days.

Those estimates, based on personal and computer-assisted interviews, 
rely almost completely on the candor of the respondents. The Bush 
administration, hoping to someday broaden the government's knowledge 
of illegal drug use, is probing the mysteries of Fairfax's sewage for 
a clearer picture.

Earlier this month, the county agreed to participate in a White House 
pilot program to analyze wastewater from communities throughout the 
Potomac River Basin for the urinary byproducts of cocaine.

"It's a very strange request," Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald 
E. Connolly (D) said of the White House program. "We're ready to do 
anything and everything we can do to eliminate illicit drug use. But 
I'd want to know a lot more about what this will actually lead to."

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.

County workers collected five days' worth of water samples between 
March 13 and March 17 at the pollution control plant in Lorton, 
according to a March 20 memo from County Executive Anthony H. Griffin 
to the Board of Supervisors.

The plant, which processes about 67 million gallons of sewage a day, 
takes in commercial and residential waste from about half the county, 
including Fairfax City, Vienna and Fort Belvoir.

The samples, which totaled about 500 milliliters, were shipped to the 
Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, where they will be 
analyzed for traces of benzoylecgonine, the main urinary metabolite 
byproduct of cocaine.

Murray said many other utilities in the region were cooperating but 
declined to name any. A spokeswoman for the Washington Suburban 
Sanitary Commission, which provides water and sewer service in 
Montgomery and Prince George's counties, said she did not know 
whether the agency was participating in the study.

Griffin's memo to the board was not released to the public until the 
day after the Fairfax sampling was completed. He did not return a 
call for comment.

Critics of the administration's drug policies said the effort seemed 
harmless enough but also wondered what it would add up to.

"It can't hurt to check," said Bill Piper, director of national 
affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group committed to 
ending the federal government's war on drugs. "I'm skeptical that it 
can be a useful gauge for policy analysis."

The wastewater research had its genesis in Europe. Last year, 
scientists of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research 
in Milan tested the waters of the Po River in northern Italy, to 
surprising results. According to the Times of London, they concluded 
that the Po carried the equivalent of about four kilograms of cocaine 
and estimated that the 1.4 million young adults living in the Po 
River Basin were consuming about 40,000 doses a day, more than twice 
the existing national estimates.

To confirm the findings, the researchers studied wastewater from 
smaller cities in other regions of the country, including Sardinia. 
After allowing for the difference between water from the Po and 
undiluted sewage, they said that the results were similar.
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