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Use radioactive tracers in illegal substances to find drug dealers and stash houses

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Contrived _voice
Contrived _voice Apr 06, 2022
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Introduce illegal substances laced with medical radioactive tracers like Iodine-131, thallium-201 or sodium-24 into the market and then use the resulting radioactivity to track them down and make arrests.
  • It's a major problem with over 500,000 people incarcerated in the United States on drug charges, The majority of these are small fry and the big fish still get away with it.
  • 80% of said arrests are for possession, which means that a lot of money and effort is spent treating the symptoms rather than the actual problem.
  • A little radiation exposure is not harmful seeing how many applications there are for it in the field of medicine.
  • This method could help find the sellers and distributors, effectively cutting off the trade at the roots.
  • Radioactive isotopes have varying half-lives, meaning there is no limit to how long or short the operation can last.
  • Since the substance in qestion is illegal and detrimental to the body but the users have already committed to its use, I doubt there would be any ethical constraints to using this approach.
How it works
Once law enforcement manages to get their hands on a major shipment, they shouldn't destroy it. That would be a waste. They should instead take it to a lab where the entire shipment would be mixed with a traceable radioisotope. The quantity should be enough to get a significant enough reading on a Geiger counter at shipments in excess of 1kg. I find it improbable that anyone would buy 5kg of cocaine just for their personal use.
The second stage is spooking the drug trafficker, this will make him sell his product quickly to other dealers consequently spreading the spiked product into the market. Eventually, I hypothesize that the bulk of the product will end up in the stash houses of the biggest dealers in each area.
A drone sweep of entire blocks to locate localized unregistered radiation sources will follow. Once these locations have been identified, they will be placed under surveillance to identify everyone involved in the supply chain. A coordinated raid can then be planned to capture both the dealers and their products in one sweep.
I am still unsure about the ethics of this. Is there a precedent for such a method?


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Thoughts on ethics and the true solution to the problem

Povilas S
Povilas S Apr 06, 2022
What about someone consuming the drug with radioactive isotopes? It could cause way more harm to the person's body than the drug itself ever could.
The large drug shipments will get distributed to smaller dealers and eventually - users, the isotopes will lead to those people as well and help arrest them, so the effectiveness of targeting large-scale dealers is questionable, it would affect everyone.
About the ethics: the catching of drug dealers arguably doesn't contribute to solving the substance-addiction problem at all. The lack of availability of illegal products always causes people to look for alternatives and alternatives are often worse, lower quality drugs acquired from uncertain sources. That is arguably also what causes greater damage than the pure, high-quality substances themselves. Large-scale dealers tend to have better products.
On top of that, governments in quite a lot of places around the world tolerate drug dealing, they only pretend not to, but they get a lot of income from it and corrupt government bodies are often directly involved in the drug trade. So sending people to prison, often for simply possessing small amounts of substances is not only unethical but also ironic.
A constructive and, arguably, the only effective way of approaching the solution to substance abuse and harm problem is to provide alternatives with similar effects, but less harm. Not to simply ban drugs. There will always be a need for uplifting one's mental/emotional state and people will try any means possible to achieve this. It is summarized well, in this speech.
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Contrived _voice
Contrived _voice2 years ago
That's the best solution but to provide the substitutes you have to take away the drugs they were addicted to in the first place. The idea here isn't to end addiction, the idea is to take away harmful substances from the streets so that you can start providing help to those that need it.
The trick to this entire scheme is volume. When the isotope is mixed with the drugs they aren't mixed in equal portions. As I mentioned, the quantities in a single consumable dose have such trace amounts that not even a Geiger counter can get significant readings from it. A count sightly higher than background radiation wouldn't even be high enough to cause somatic damage let alone genetic damage.
The only people who would be traced through this method would need to store such massive quantities of the substance that the readings would be recordable even from a distance so distributors and sellers. the average consumer would be invisible unless caught via surveillance.
And even if anyone feels uneasy using radiation like this, they could use a short-lived isotope to track it to the stash house and then after the radiation faded they could use classic surveillance from there.
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Povilas S
Povilas S2 years ago
Contrived _voiceYes, I see the point about small vs large amounts of radioactive isotopes, makes sense.
About addiction and alternatives: not everyone using drugs is addicted to them, similarly as not everyone drinking alcohol is an alcoholic. There are varying levels of addiction and different drugs have different addictiveness strengths. Taking away big shipments of drugs will cause drug users to look for alternatives elsewhere, you can hardly cut the supply of drugs this way.
The practical side of your idea (the methodology) is good. But since you asked about ethics, as I said, I doubt that catching drug dealers will solve the root of the problem.
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Contrived _voice
Contrived _voice2 years ago
Povilas S alright, fair play. I'll end the war on drugs another way
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Using glowing bacteria beads instead

jnikola Apr 29, 2022
Put glowing bacteria beads inside a drug and keep track of drug distribution through sewage system analysis.
How would it work?
The idea is inspired by this article that describes glowing bacteria beads that are attracted by TNT vapors. The scientists used them to locate the landmines.
The bacteria would be modified so that they do not replicate, do not cause diseases, but glow. We could put the engineered bacteria in drugs and regularly test sewage waters for the presence of the glowing signal. The best places to test would be previously-installed filters with different attractants where bacteria would accumulate. That way we could define drug distribution networks and recognize local drug dealers faster.
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