Scientists are dipping into city sewers in search of drugs for the same reason people on parole take urine tests instead of surveys. You can always lie on a questionnairebut outwitting your toilet can be a bit more challenging. The technique, known as sewer epidemiology uses wastewater sampling equipment , was recently used to compare illicit drug use across 19 European cities, and could represent the future of population-wide drug testing. This approach is a response to the pitfalls of questionnaires on illicit drug use. People avoid them. When they don't, their answers are inherently subjective. Most people probably couldn't tell you how much coke they consume in a typical line (about 100 milligrams). And, of course, people lie. ewers, 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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