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US illegal drug use could exceed official estimates

US illegal drug use could exceed official estimates

  • August 2018
  • Posted By Ben Craske

According to a study by researchers at Kentucky’s Murray State University, illegal drug use in the US could exceed official estimates. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that more than 28 million people used illegal drugs in 2016, including 12 million who abused opioids.

Bikram Subedi, the study’s lead investigator, said the HHS relies on overdose/toxicology reports, drug-related crime statistics, and public surveys, and believes that the methodology used to develop official estimates underreports illegal drug use. Subedi’s team tested this hypothesis by using ‘sewage epidemiology’ to analyse the wastewater at sewage treatment plants in two Kentucky towns.

After collecting samples at the two plants, the study team used mass spectrometry and high-performance liquid chromatography to determine the levels of drug residue. Calculations based on analysing the samples found that meth use levels were among the highest ever recorded in the US. The team’s estimates of the percentage of the population using meth and amphetamine were two to four times higher than the official HHS estimates.

The samples collected by the team also revealed very high levels of opioid consumption, including morphine, oxycodone, Percocet, and hydrocodone. Subedi said that Kentucky is in a region with a very large number of illegal meth labs and an extremely high rate of prescribing opioids.

The analysis of the samples also showed that drug use was higher during the Fourth of July celebration and while observing the 2017 solar eclipse, confirming the widespread assumption that the use of drugs increases during celebrations and special events. The research team presented their findings on 20 August at the 256th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).


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