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Barcelona, Spain

Air in Madrid and Barcelona Contains Cocaine and LSD

May 15, 2009 04:30 PM
by Rachel Balik
Studying a community’s air and water is giving scientists clues about a region’s drug use, as a recent Spanish study illustrates.

Researchers: Cocaine and LSD in Spanish Air Won’t Hurt Anyone

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Barcelona has always been known for being a great party city, and that was before researchers from the Superior Council of Scientific Investigations, an institute of the Spanish government, discovered that the air there is laced with cocaine, LSD, amphetamines and opiates. The researchers said that while the amounts were negligible, they were higher on weekends.

Furthermore, The Associated Press notes that the amounts of drugs were not the same throughout each entire city. Researchers acquired data by setting up air testing stations, and deliberately placed the testing center near areas where frequent drug use was suspected. Specifically, filters were placed near universities in both cities. In Madrid, the filter was also located in a spot where drug dealers are often seen.
Rather than suggest anything noteworthy about the air quality, the results of the study are more relevant for an analysis of the types of drugs being used in the cities, and how frequently. The method will also be useful for comparing the drug use across cities and countries. For example, Agence France-Presse noted that the air in Madrid contained heroin, as well, although samples from Barcelona did not.

But the study also confirms that the drug use in Spain is more significant than that in other European cities. A similar test was run in Italy in 2007, and while traces of drugs were found, the numbers were not as high.

In Spain, in some cases 850 picograms were found, but in Rome, the highest concentration was 100 picograms, AP reported. But the scientists insist that the study should not cause alarm: the data is simply useful for “fast” analysis of drug use. Even 850 picograms would not affect a person breathing the air.

Background: Tracking drug use through the air

In December, ScienceDaily reported that scientists in America are working on a technique for testing illicit drug use by testing flushed toilet water. With this method, scientists can track traces of drugs in urine without testing any individual person. It would be particularly useful for comparing drug use across regions of the country.

Opinion & Analysis: Air quality a good way to monitor drug use

Blogging for Slate, William Saletan suggests that tracking drug use through the air and water of cities is a good way to avoid the invasion of privacy that individual surveillance might entail. He argues that other methods for testing drugs are “intrusive” while air and sewage testing are not. He does wonder if libertarians will disagree and still consider this method of testing an invasion of privacy.

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Reference: Full text of study; report on Spain

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