Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Urine survey reveals Europe’s favorite drugs
Coke, meth, ecstasy, amphetamines: each drug has a different 'capital'
- A large-scale survey of wastewater across Europe shows which illicit drugs are popular.
- The use of four main drugs was up across the board last year, but regional variation persists.
- Cocaine is popular in the west and south, meth in the east and north.
How to trace illicit drug use
Some examples of MDMA, a.k.a. ecstasy, in pill form.
DM Trott / The Drug User's Bible - CC BY-SA 4.0
Europe's drug capitals? Antwerp for cocaine use, Stockholm for amphetamines. Prague tops the list for crystal meth, Amsterdam for ecstasy. So says a study by the EU's official drug monitory body, analysing sewage samples from 68 cities in 23 European countries. The standardised surveys of urban wastewater, conducted since 2011, are a good indicator of regional preferences in illicit drug use, and their evolution over time.
It's not easy to establish the size of Europe's appetite for illicit drugs. Most users would prefer not to discuss their habit, and seizures of drugs shipments provide only a very partial picture. Fortunately for the scientists, urine doesn't lie.
Since its original use in the 1990s to monitor the environmental impact of liquid household waste, wastewater analysis has rapidly improved, and is now able to provide near real-time data on the quantity, the geography and the evolution over time of illicit drug use.
The most recent study, published earlier this month by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), took samples in March 2019 at treatment plants processing sewage for a total of 50 million Europeans, concentrated in the continent's major urban centers.
The sewage was tested for traces of four illicit drugs: cocaine, MDMA (popularly known as ecstasy), amphetamines and methamphetamines (a.k.a. crystal meth). These leave clearly detectable biomarkers in sewage, unlike cannabis or heroin.
- Compared to previous years, consumption was on the increase for each of the four drugs.
- Residues for all four drugs were higher in larger cities – a reflection of the fact that this is where younger people tend to congregate.
- Three out of four cities reported higher levels of amphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy use during the weekend, indicating recreational use.
- Crystal meth use tended to stay even over the whole week, indicating more chronic, problematic use.
Cocaine: popular in west and south
The Belgian port city of Antwerp tops the list for highest average cocaine use
The Belgian port city of Antwerp – and in particular the district of Antwerp-Zuid – topped the list of European cities with the highest average cocaine use, both on weekdays and at weekends.
The figures – expressing average mg/day of cocaine biomarker per 1,000 persons – show the Belgians out-consuming the runners-up in Amsterdam by a considerable margin. Also remarkable: four of Europe's top 10 coke cities are Swiss; and London barely makes the list.
As recently as 2015, London was Europe's cocaine capital, with a wastewater count of 909mg of benzoylecgonine (BE) per 1,000 people. BE is the compound produced by the body when it breaks down cocaine. Other research at that time showed 4% of Londoners between 15 and 34 years of age had taken cocaine in the preceding year.
But recent figures show the BE count in London's sewage has been dropping for years now, from 895mg in 2016 to 619mg in 2019 – a reduction by nearly a third. Why is that? Wastewater research can't tell you that. But the three most likely theories are:
- The samples are non-representative anomalies.
- The London market for cocaine is saturated.
- After consistent rises in the previous years, the purity of the product has gone down.
The actual answer could be any combination of those three possibilities.Seen across the whole of Europe, cocaine use is highest in western and southern European cities, particularly in Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and Spain. Despite some increase, cocaine use remains low in eastern Europe.
|Cocaine capitals of Europe||mg|
|3||St Gallen Hofen||Switzerland||909.8|
Ecstasy: from 'niche' to mainstream
Ecstasy is now being used by a broader range of young people in mainstream nightlife settings.
MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, is most popular in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Until recently, overall MDMA use seemed to be declining from a peak in the early to mid-2000s; however, more recent data provides a mixed picture, with MDMA consumption falling in London, for example, but remaining high in some cities. Sharp increases were noted in particular for Antwerp, Amsterdam and Eindhoven.
In fact, the study reports an increase in MDMA use for more than half of the 42 cities with comparable data for 2018 and 2019 – leading the researchers to conclude that ecstasy no longer is a 'niche' drug, linked to the sub-culture of dance clubs. It's now being used by a broader range of young people in mainstream nightlife settings, like bars and house parties.
|Ecstasy capitals of Europe||mg|
Meth: breaking out of its Czech heartland
Prague is Europe's meth central.
For years, methamphetamine was popular particularly in the Czech Republic. In recent years, the drug has made inroads in surrounding countries – Slovakia and eastern Germany – but also further afield, in various Nordic cities, in Cyprus and Spain.
Overall 21 of the 41 cities with data on meth use for both 2018 and 2019 showed an increase. Despite this, meth use remained negligible outside the established hotspots.
In 2015, Oslo and Dresden topped the meth league tables, in 2016, Slovakia's capital Bratislava took the crown. In 2019, Prague was Europe's meth capital.
|Meth capitals of Europe||mg|
Amphetamines: popular in the north
Germany, Belgium and Sweden occupy all but two spots in the amphetamine top 10.
Antwerp was Europe's amphetamine capital back in 2016, but the city has to content itself with its top spot in the cocaine ranking, having gone down a few places in this league table. Sweden rules the roost, occupying first and second place; with Belgium and Germany occupying three spots each.
No wonder then that the highest levels of amphetamine use were reported in northern European cities, with much lower levels in southern Europe.
Wastewater analysis has its limits when trying to establish quantities or patterns of illicit drug use, but it offers support to other indicators of drug consumption, for instance the amounts of drugs seized by the authorities, and it confirms the picture of a remarkably divergent market across Europe.
Strange Maps #1018
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.