August 5, 2005

High tide on Italy’s cocaine river

ROME (Reuters) - The mighty Po river is not only Italy's
longest. It also may be the highest, at least judging by the
amount of cocaine coursing through its waters.

Italian scientists, trying to develop a new way of
measuring levels of drug abuse, tested the river's waters for
excreted cocaine, and for its main urinary metabolic by-product

They say that the equivalent of about $400,000 worth of
cocaine was flowing through the 652 km-long (405 mile) river
every day.

That is much higher than official estimates for cocaine
consumption, which rely on less objective detection methods,
like informal surveys filled out by drug abusers.

"The method tested here ... might be further refined to
become a standardized, objective tool for monitoring drug
abuse," said the study, led by scientist Ettore Zuccato at the
Milan-based Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research.

Taking into account drug concentrations, water flow rates
and populations at each sampling site, the study concluded that
the average daily use of cocaine along the Po was the
equivalent of at least 22-32 doses for every 1,000 young

"The official figures in this area would translate into at
least 15,000 cocaine use events per month. We however found
evidence of about 40,000 doses per day, a vastly larger
estimate," the study said.

The study was published on an open access Internet journal: