"…THE rivers of Italy are flowing with cocaine, say scientists who have adopted a new approach to measuring the extent of drug misuse. The biggest river, the Po, carries the equivalent of about 4kg (8lb 13oz) of the drug a day, with a street value of about £20,000.
Cocaine users among the five million people who live in the Po River basin in northern Italy consume the drug and excrete its metabolic by-product, benzoylecgonine (BE). This goes from sewers into the river. So a team led by Dr Ettore Zuccato, of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, estimated the use of cocaine by testing the waters of the Po for BE, and for any cocaine that had passed through the body unaltered or reached the sewers in other ways.
What they found surprised them. They calculated that for every 1,000 young adults in the catchment area, about 30 must be taking a daily dose of 100 milligrams of cocaine, which greatly exceeds official national figures for cocaine use.
According to official Italian statistics, 1.1 per cent of people between the ages of 15 and 34 admit to having used cocaine “at least once in the preceding month”. Almost all cocaine use occurs in this age group.
Assuming that there are 1.4 million young adults in the Po River basin, the official statistics suggest that there would be 15,000 cocaine-use events per month. But the evidence from the water suggests that the real usage is about 40,000 doses a day, a vastly greater figure.
“The economic impact of trafficking such a large amount of cocaine would be staggering,” Dr Zuccato said. “The large amount of cocaine — at least 1,500kg — that our findings suggest is consumed per year in the River Po basin would amount, in fact, to about $150 million in street value, based on an average US street value of $100 per gram.”