Are You Eating or Drinking Other People"s Drugs?

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We often see studies that estimate how many people are using drugs. They usually come from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other government agencies. But the new practice of testing for drugs in wastewater is proving that drug use may be significantly higher than these studies reveal, and some of us may be ingesting other people's drugs in our drinking water and our food.

The wastewater studies, which began in earnest in 2006, are providing valuable information about drug use in specific cities and communities. In Los Angeles County, for example, Lancaster and Palmdale, about an hour north of the city of LA, had the highest concentrations of cocaine - more than twice that of Long Beach. But even the lowest concentrations were higher than many other U.S. cities and several cities in Europe.

Las Vegas, on the other hand, seems to prefer speed. Methamphetamine concentration was 5 times higher than in Omaha and twice as high as Oklahoma City.

One of the testers, an environmental chemist from Oregon State University, which spearheaded the testing in 2006, said that no matter what the location, you always find something.

Water treatment plants that recycle wastewater to put it back into the water supply do not test for drugs. Apparently they can't do so without a license to handle controlled substances, and it's also very expensive.

Fortunately, there are other entities testing for drugs in drinking water. The practice is rare, but also provides valuable data. Tests of New York's drinking water, for example, revealed the presence of many different types of prescription drugs, including heart medication, antibiotics, hormones, sedatives, tranquilizers, mood-altering drugs and painkillers. Given the prescription drug addiction and abuse epidemic we're currently going through, this situation is likely to get worse.

Other people's drugs can also be found in our food. Animals drink the water, and fish absorb it. It can be a serious problem with fish - both small and large fish accumulate the drugs and since the larger fish, which we're more likely to eat, also eat the smaller fish, they accumulate even more.

The water is also absorbed by the soil and, consequently, the drugs wind up in our food supply.

While the dose we would be drinking or eating is very low - no one's going to get high from drinking a glass of water - some drugs are bioaccumulative. They stay in the system, often lodged in fat cells, which even the leanest of us have in abundance. In fact, bioaccumulation is one of the reasons people who have taken drugs can re-experience 'trips' and why a good drug addiction treatment center also offers some form of detox that really flushes out the system. Not doing a detox can also contribute to relapse.

For those with digestive problems, the risk of drug accumulation can be worse than others. A survey conducted by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) found that more than 81 million Americans suffer from digestive disturbances of some sort - none of these people are processing what comes into their body as well as they should be and many are likely to be accumulating drugs and toxins at a higher rate than someone who's metabolism is functioning at optimum.

Law enforcement officials are hoping this wastewater info will give them a better handle on the drug scene, but until treatment plants are regularly testing for drugs and developing ways to get rid of them in the treatment process, we're still at risk.

How can you protect yourself and your family? The bottled water industry isn't regulated well enough to make sure the water is any better for us than tap water, so that's not always a good alternative. However, you can contact bottled water companies and find out more about their filtration system and whether or not it gets rid of drugs. You can also use reverse osmosis systems in your home.

There are many unanswered questions about how this problem is affecting the general public. How much of our illness is caused by contaminated water or food? Is it possible that the prescription drug addiction epidemic is being fuelled by the introduction of the drugs into our system through our drinking water? No one knows.

Nevertheless, there is plenty of evidence that clean water and food can improve our general health and may reduce illness and our need for drugs. Which, in turn, means fewer drugs in wastewater. The circle of life continues.

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