- A new study by Italian scientists has found cocaine floating in the air above many cities in Italy. The airborne concentrations appear to correlate with each individual city's number of drug users requesting clinical assistance. Pictured: Cocaine. (DEA)
When I first heard the bizarre news about the presence of cocaine in Italy's atmosphere, I immediately thought this must be going on a lot:
I mean, what are Italians doing with their drugs? Snorting lines off of airplane wings? Using crack rocks to shoot skeet with? It's truly mind-boggling.
Even more so are the implications of this new study by scientists from the Rome-based Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research, titled "Possible social relevance of illicit psychotropic substances present in the atmosphere." (Abstract here.) The lead author of the paper, Angelo Cecinato, had in 2007 found traces of cocaine, marijuana, nicotine and (coffee spit-take, literally?) caffeine in the air above Rome and Taranto. This more recent study expands the scope of narco-meteorological research by comparing air samples from nearly 60 locations across Italy against a metric of urban ills, including crime rates and medical disorders.
Here are the pertinent results:
• "Meaningful links were found between atmospheric cocaine and the amount of drugs seized, the number of drug related crimes and the demand for clinical treatment recorded in the Italian regions."
• "Atmospheric cocaine and cannabinoids also seemed to be correlated with tumour insurgence and mental disease frequency, respectively." However, the study notes that more research is needed to back up this point.
• "Moreover, according to our study illicit drugs are suspected to promote long-term ill health effects even when present at low concentrations the air."
If true, this study implies that the areas of the country where people are ganking each other's cash and stashes and calling in treatment centers for help with addictions have the heaviest cocaine plumes dusting the skies. Wowza. This is way more interesting than estrogen in our drinking water and Prozac in the Great Lakes.
You can read more about the Italian study at ScienceNOW's nifty article, "Are You Inhaling Secondhand Coke?" It has an interesting quote from a hometown drug researcher which I'll excerpt here:
Epidemiologist Wilson Compton of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Bethesda, Maryland, calls the work innovative. "We're always looking for more accurate ways to gauge the amount of drug use in communities," he says, adding that better information could lead to improved treatment, education, and policing.
Regarding the possible health risks to non-users, Compton said "I wouldn't sound any alarm bells based on this one study. But the researchers did find this link, and it's worth further exploration. Second-hand cigarette smoke wasn't considered a health threat either, until comparatively recently."