The policies pertaining to illicit drugs are ever changing, for a number of different reasons. Some policies are a result of the way illegal drugs are being made, such as the crackdown on over-the-counter sales of pseudo-ephedrine containing cold medicines that are being used to manufacture methamphetamine. Some policies come about as a result of a spike in use or overdoses that are associated with a specific drug, like heroin dealers being charged with homicide after users overdose on the drug after it is sold to them. Some policies even come about as a result of general concern for the safety of the public, like the recent policies that have been developed regarding the sales of bath salts and synthetic marijuana like K2 and spice. This may lead some to ask the question: How are policies regarding illicit drugs developed?
Traditionally, drug policies have been developed based on questionnaires given to the general public about drug use. These questionnaires may ask about what kinds of drug behaviors people are participating in, including questions about what kinds of drugs they are using, how much they are using, or how often they are using. This information is then combined with police records and medical data in order to present a comprehensive view of trending behaviors concerning illicit drug use. In this way, trends in drug use can be monitored across the country, and even other parts of the world. Policy makers can then put new drug policies into effect based on the trends of drug use.
In Europe, research institutes concerned with assisting in the development of drug policies are using a new way to gather data - testing raw sewage. Much in the way that drug users can be tested for illicit drug use through urine analysis, researchers have collected sewage samples from 11 different cities in Europe, and have analyzed these samples for amounts and concentrations of illicit substances. Researchers claim that collecting data in this way provides a greater reliability in results as compared to the traditional questionnaire based research methodology.
The implications for this type of research are vast. Not only will trends in drug use be able to be measured scientifically, but these trends can be monitored continuously. Researches, policy makers, and law enforcement officials will all be able to find out what the market is for drugs in any given city, as well as changes in the amounts of the drugs that are being consumed - important information to know after things like seizures of illicit substances coming through customs, or police raids. Additionally, this research methodology can be used anywhere, worldwide. The information collected can be used to get the first sense of concurrent drug use trends across the globe.
Drugs are more dangerous than ever. They have become more potent and more addictive over time. With new scientific research coming out on trends in drug use, law enforcement and policy makers have the best shot yet of being able to limit the amount of harm caused by these deadly substances.
Jessica Parks is a certified alcohol and drug counselor in the state of Illinois and has her M.A. in art therapy counseling.