Doodoo data mining: drug testing for cities

By way of Clive Thompson’s collision detection blog, I came across this great article on citywide drug-testing using… wait for it… raw sewage. It only takes a teaspoon to find out the poop on metropolitan pill-popping. They can get good quantitative results on fifteen kinds of drugs. So for instance, they observe that “cocaine and ecstasy tended to peak on weekends and drop on weekdays, … while methamphetamine and prescription drugs were steady throughout the week.”

This is simultaneously funny and brilliant. It will be much more widely exploited in the future. It’s a perfect example of mining valuable data from otherwise unappreciated information flows. How does a cop know when a particular drug has become a problem for his jurisdiction? Arrests and drugs busts are sure to be trailing indicators, whereas community urinalysis is an infallible leading indicator (or rather an indicator that trails by no more than a few beers and a trip to the john).

Furthermore, the extensions are obvious and sure to be pursued. Sample your city by district, by neighborhood, by building. If I was a cop, I’d want to know where trouble was brewing. I can envision a whole new kind of heat map. Imagine the possibilities… test for capsaicin and you could probably use it to find the locations of good Mexican restaurants. Of course, you wouldn’t even need a fancy test to tell if it’s asparagus season.

It’s only a matter of time until suspicious employers are dipping into the used coffee stream at work. And what better way to see what your teenager’s been up to? I can see a darn good business in combination sewage trap tappers and drug test kits. Call it the Poop ‘n’ Snoop: “Once they go, you’re in the know.”

The litter box attachment would verify your cat has licked his blow problem.

Anybody want to invest?