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chamberpot of secrets

This company wants to track opioids with sewer robots

One biotech company thinks a city's most useful secrets live down in the sewers.

Biobot Analytics, a Massachusetts firm, wants to use water-sampling robots to track wastewater and find patterns in a city's opioid usage, Stat reported Tuesday.

Some U.S. cities have been caught off-guard by rising drug use in their communities, researchers point out, so it could be useful to have a "collective urine and stool sample" to keep tabs on public health and evaluate the efficacy of substance abuse programs and treatments.

The company is launching a pilot program in Cary, North Carolina, a quiet town where officials were shocked by a sudden 70 percent increase in opioid overdoses last year. Biobot will soon install robots to pump wastewater through filters to extract dissolved chemicals for analysis, reports Stat. Scientists will analyze the samples every two weeks to get a picture of drug use in Cary over time.

The practice is controversial, however, because cities are worried about the stigma around drug use. Researchers wouldn't be able to identify drug use within individual homes or people, but the city would still be able to track everybody's waste without the chance for residents to opt out. Others point out that many European cities already use similar testing, and say it helps raise understanding and collect better information. Read more at Stat.