Using cellphones and sewage, scientists can tell what drugs you’re taking

sewage cellphone drugs 48217202 l
Asking people about their drug habits — whether perfectly legal pharmaceuticals or those on the more illicit end of the spectrum — unsurprisingly doesn’t always result in reliable data. You know what does? Analyzing waste products in the form of sewage, since that’s where ingested drugs ultimately end up in some way, shape, or form.

This is where a new study comes into play, as researchers analyzed both sewage and cell phone signals as a means of finding out more specific information about the inhabitants of certain areas — from what they use medicinally to a census of who is in a certain area at a certain time.

“Through combining measurements of drug residues in sewage with counting the number of mobile devices in the area to [indicate] the number people there when we collect our sample, we have developed a tool for knowing the per capita drug use for the population with a relatively low level of uncertainty,” Professor Kevin Thomas, from the faculty of Health of Behavioral Sciences at Australia’s University of Queensland, told Digital Trends. “What’s exciting is that we are able to deal with highly dynamic populations, yet still say with confidence what the level of drug use is. This is a really exciting development as it significantly reduces the uncertainty associated with population weighting that has been a weakness of many wastewater-based studies. [It] opens up the opportunity to look at spatial and temporal trends with much more certainty — a really important development as we start to look at new biomarkers in sewage.”

For their proof of concept, the researchers looked at Oslo, Norway, where they found that the population in one area can change by more than 40 percent in one 24-hour period. That pretty much renders any survey limited to local residences enormously inaccurate, even if they all did tell the truth about their habits. The researchers also noted some intriguing details related to seasonal drug usage, like finding that ecstasy is most heavily used during weekends, while illegal drug use in general peaks in June and July.

“We are currently working on expanding the biomarkers in wastewater that we measure to cover chemical exposure, different health effects, and nutrition,” Thomas continued. “We hope to be able to develop a suite of biomarkers that will tell us about the health of a population in a particular area with the overall goal of protecting human health.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.


MIT science photographer isn’t an artist, but her work could fill galleries

Felice Frankel is an award-winning photographer, but she doesn't consider herself an artist. As a science photographer, she has been helping researchers better communicate their ideas for nearly three decades with eye-catching imagery.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

The Apple Watch Series 4's heart-monitoring ECG feature is now available

Apple officially unveiled the Apple Watch Series 4. From a larger display to a built-in electrical heart sensor, the latest device brings along some notable new features. Here's everything you need to know.
Emerging Tech

It’s no flying car, but the e-scooter had a huge impact on city streets in 2018

Within just a year, electric scooters have fundamentally changed how we navigate cities. From San Francisco to Paris, commuters have a new option that’s more fun than mass transit, easier than a bike, and definitely not a car.
Emerging Tech

Intel wants its fleet of drones to monitor America’s aging, unsafe bridges

Intel has signed a deal to use its Falcon 8+ drones to carry out bridge inspections. The hope is that these drones will be useful in spotting potential problems before they become serious.

Print your heart’s desire: Enter our giveaway to win a free Monoprice 3D printer

We’re giving away a $400 Monoprice MP Voxel 3D Printer. It's easy to use, especially for beginners, with its simple menu system and touchscreen display. It comes fully assembled so you can spend more time printing instead of setting up.
Emerging Tech

Transplanted pig hearts show promise in baboon trials. Are humans next?

Researchers in Germany have successfully transplanted modified pig hearts into baboons. The results take us one step closer to ending organ transplant waiting lists for good. Here's why.
Emerging Tech

An A.I. cracks the internet’s squiggly letter bot test in 0.5 seconds

How do you prove that you’re a human when communicating on the internet? The answer used to be by solving a CAPTCHA puzzle. But maybe not for too much longer. Here is the reason why.
Emerging Tech

Makerbot is back with a new 3D printer that’s faster and more precise than ever

MakerBot's new Method 3D printer aims to bridge the gap between home 3D printers and more industrial 3D printing tech. Here are a few of the tantalizing things you can expect from it.
Emerging Tech

Warm ski beanie instantly hardens into a head-protecting helmet upon impact

Wool hats are way more comfortable than hard helmets. You know what they're not? Safer. That could soon change, thanks to an innovative new ski beanie which instantly hardens upon impact.

Take to the skies with these 5 drones on sale for under $50

On the hunt for some cool tech for under $50? We've rounded up 5 drones under $50 that you can still get before Christmas. These models are great for kids, adults, and anyone just getting started with drones.
Emerging Tech

With this robotic garage, retrieving your car is like using a vending machine

Remembering where we parked our cars can be a real pain. But what if our cars came to find us, rather than the other way around? A new automated robot parking valet system aims to help.

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…