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Italian river full of cocaine


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Scientists have found large quantities of cocaine residue in a river in northern Italy - suggesting consumption is much higher than previously thought.


They say they found the equivalent of 40,000 doses a day in the Po valley, home to about five million people.


The study, published by the UK's Environmental Health magazine, tests sewage and rivers for levels of a by-product of cocaine metabolism.


The team say the test has to be refined before being applied on a vast scale.


The chemical found in the urine of cocaine users is called benzoylecgonine, or BE.


It is produced only by metabolising cocaine.




The new report suggests that past studies of cocaine use in Italy - mainly based on population surveys and crime statistics - had been optimistic.


According to official estimates, people living around the Po consume about 15,000 doses of cocaine a month.


But the research claims more than three times as much cocaine is used in the area.


The team, led by Dr Ettore Zuccato from the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, said they were taken aback by their findings, whose economic impact they described as "staggering".


"The large amount of cocaine (at least 1,500 kg/3,307lb) that our findings suggest are consumed per year in the River Po basin would amount... to about $150m (£84m) in street value," the scientists wrote in the journal.


They hope that in the near future, they will be able to develop similar tests in order to assess the true number of cannabis and heroin users.


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