Wastewater testing could help provide information about use of addictive drugs in the population in a plan from Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch to be discussed Tuesday.
Koch wants staff and funding added at the Dallas County Health Department to test what narcotics are found in wastewater.
“Just how much we are consuming as a county when it comes to narcotics?" Koch asked. “This is just one step in getting better information so we can not fight blindly.”
Testing wastewater that arrives at the treatment plant could not target individual homes. It would only provide information about the community at large.
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Koch said basing drug use information on available information like arrests targets lower income neighborhoods where activity is more visible. Wastewater testing could include drugs coming from places like gated communities and offices where drug use would otherwise go undetected.
“Dallas County really need to take a look in the mirror,” Koch said. “Are we serious about reducing overall use of narcotics or are we going to continue to arrest those who are the easiest to arrest that are engaged in this illicit trade.”
The Recovery Resource Council is a state funded agency responsible for tracking drug and alcohol use and developing programs to prevent it. The agency uses many sources of information including hospitals and emergency medical calls.
Becky Tinney, Director of Community Engagement, said wastewater testing could provide current, precise local information about drug use that has not resulted in emergencies or arrests.
“It strengthens our prevention efforts. It helps us identify gaps for those treatment providers,” she said. “Sometimes what the national headlines say are the biggest problems aren’t always the biggest problems for our community or our city.”
Dallas County Commissioners will discuss Koch’s idea Tuesday.
“It never hurts to have more monitoring,” Commissioner Elba Garcia said in a text message response.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a voicemail message that he is interested in learning more about how wastewater testing would work and how much it would cost.
Tinney said better knowledge to target drug abuse prevention efforts could reduce the very high cost of jails and treatment later.
“A few dollars invested now can save money in the long run,” Tinney said.