Monday, August 08, 2005

Cocaine Pollution

According to a report in 'Nature': The 5 million people living around Italy's largest river consume 200,000 lines of cocaine a day.

'Ettore Zuccato of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan and his colleagues took river and sewage samples from four medium-sized Italian cities. They analysed these samples for cocaine and its main metabolite, called bezoylecgonine, which is found in urine.They then scaled this up to estimate the total amount of drugs travelling through the water system in a day, using figures of overall water flow.This approach revealed that the 5 million people living around the Po, Italy's largest river, consume four kilograms of cocaine each day. This translates into at least 40,000 daily doses of this drug, or about 200,000 lines of cocaine, the team reports in Environmental Health1."It's higher than what we were expecting," says Zuccato. '

The fuill text an pdf of the entire article is on open access at:

In this it says: 'Official statistics for the year 2001 indicate that in Italy about 1.1% of young adults (15-34 yrs old) admit having used cocaine “at least once in the preceding month”, but the actual dosages and frequency of use are not known. Therefore, it is hard to estimate the amount of cocaine that is consumed by the population. If we consider that in the River Po basin there are about 1.4 million young adults, the official figures in this area would translate into at least 15,000 cocaine use events per month.

'We however found evidence of about 40,000 doses per day, a vastly larger estimate. The economic impact of trafficking such a large amount of cocaine would be staggering. The large amount of cocaine (at least 1500 kilograms) that our findings suggest are consumed per year in the River Po basin would amount, in fact, to about $150 million in street value (based on an average US street value of $100 per gram '

The broader implications are sketched out in 'The Lancet' : 'Therapeutic drugs can contaminate the environment because of metabolic excretion, improper disposal, or industrial waste. To assess the extent of this contamination, we listed drugs thought to be putative priority pollutants according to selected criteria, and measured them in Lombardy, Italy. Most drugs were measurable in drinking or river waters and sediments, suggesting that pharmaceutical products are widespread contaminants, with possible implications for human health and the environment. '

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