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How human waste will help the curb the opioid epidemic
By Alice Park
Senior Health Correspondent

Most of us don’t think much about what we send down the toilet or drain, but our waste can be a valuable resource for improving public health. During the pandemic, researchers analyzed sewage for signs of the COVID-19 virus, and that data is now among the most reliable ways of tracking infections nationwide for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Biobot, the first company to offer commercial wastewater surveillance analysis for cities and municipalities, has been providing about a third of that COVID-19 data to the CDC. Biobot is now launching another government partnership, this time with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, to track opioids. I spoke to Biobot co-founder Mariana Matus about the program’s goals:

  • Five substances—cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamine, naloxone, and xylazine—will be tracked in the wastewater of select U.S. cities. Naloxone is a treatment that can reverse overdoses.
  • The data will help government officials to distribute resources for educating people about overdose risk and treating them to areas where use is high.
  • In a pilot study, the data helped Cary, N.C., reduce overdoses by 40% over a year.


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Today's newsletter was written by Alice Park and Oliver Staley, and edited by Oliver.