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Drugs In the Plumbing? Las Vegas’s Waste Problem

by Will Long

September 6, 2022

Drugs in the Plumbing? Las Vegas’s Waste Problem

Huge music festivals or large gatherings of people looking for a party often bring lots of illicit drug use to a particular place, including Las Vegas when it hosts a festival like the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) or sporting events like the NFL Draft. Testing of sewage water for drugs has shown this to be true. That’s right: the process of biological elimination, urination or defecation, causes some substances to end up in sewers and sometimes in our waterways. Through this process, we get drug byproducts and even other drugs in the plumbing and, ultimately, in waterways in and around localities dealing with illicit drug use.

River of Waste? The Las Vegas Wash

The Las Vegas Wash, a 12-mile drainage channel for treated sewage water to return to Lake Mead, is an important area for wildlife around the city. Acting as the “kidneys” for treated wastewater, the wetlands created by the wash effectively clean the water further through natural processes. Once the water flows all the way back to Lake Mead, it’s diluted naturally, then pumped back to the city after purification. In May of this year, a team of scientists, led by Dr. Douglas Sims from the College of Southern Nevada, tested the treated wastewater carried by the Las Vegas Wash before it reached Lake Mead to see what kind of substances it might contain.

According to 8 News Now, the local Las Vegas CBS affiliate station, the team found 28 different substances in the water. Originally testing for anti-seizure medication traces as part of a global study on drug levels in waterways, the equipment the team was using found much more than they thought they would. Expressed in parts-per-trillion, the levels of substances aren’t high enough to affect wildlife or humans but remain a worry as more drugs are consumed and released into the environment through human waste. As the groundwater level in Las Vegas decreases and the amount of wastewater increases, the effects of substance traces will multiply and may potentially impact plants and animals in the area.

Read more about the effect of drug waste in waterways here in our handy Twitter thread:

Higher Levels of Substance Use Detectable in Unexpected Places

During festivals where increased drug consumption occurs, the level of drugs detectible in the wastewater increases. A multi-day repeat of the same test done in May showed that drugs spiked in the wastewater during and after the Electric Daisy Carnival music festival. On the Monday after the festival, MDMA levels in the Wash were 300 times higher than the level on the day the festival began. The effect this might have on the environment is currently unknown, but as we learn more and expand studies around the subject, we will soon see the impact this could have.

Learn More

To learn more about how Landmark Recovery of Las Vegas treats those suffering from a substance use disorder, call our dedicated admissions specialists at 888-448-0302. Our Las Vegas treatment facility is the only one in Las Vegas that treats patients from detox to aftercare. Our mission is to save a million lives in the next century, starting with those in our very own backyard in Las Vegas.

About the Author

Will Long

Will Long

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Will has been a writer for Landmark Recovery since 2021. Will specializes in research and writing about substance abuse from a scientific and social perspective.

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