Scientists were left shocked when traces of illegal party drugs were found in freshwater shrimp swimming in Britain’s countryside rivers.
Drugs such as cocaine and ketamine were discovered by a team investigating 15 sites at five rivers around Suffolk to see what chemicals were in the water.
The authors said ‘surprisingly’ they found cocaine in every single sample – while the party drug ketamine and other pharmaceuticals were also found in the shrimp.
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Scientists were left shocked when traces of illegal party drugs were found in freshwater shrimp swimming in Britain’s countryside rivers (stock image)
Kings College Scientists working with the University of Suffolk collected water samples at the rivers across the rural county.
Dr Leon Barron from King’s College London added: ‘Such regular occurrence of illicit drugs in wildlife was surprising. We might expect to see these in urban areas such as London, but not in smaller and more rural catchments.
‘The presence of pesticides which have long been banned in the UK also poses a particular challenge as the sources of these remain unclear.’
In all 56, different substances were detected – and the drug of abuse, cocaine, was the most commonly found along with lidocaine.
Lidocaine has legal uses as a local anaesthetic in dentistry, but is also often used illicitly to ‘cut’ cocaine, as it produces numbness in the gums like cocaine, tricking users into thinking they are getting cocaine which has a similar effect.
Lead author, Dr Thomas Miller from King’s College London said: ‘Although concentrations were low, we were able to identify compounds that might be of concern to the environment and crucially, which might pose a risk to wildlife.
Dr Miller added: ‘As part of our ongoing work, we found that the most frequently detected compounds were illicit drugs, including cocaine and ketamine and a banned pesticide, fenuron.’
The authors tested sites at the rivers Deven, Alde, Stour, Waveney and Gipping.
The authors said ‘surprisingly’ they found cocaine in every single sample taken from waterways around Suffolk – while the party drug ketamine and other pharmaceuticals were also found in the shrimp (stock image)
MDMA, also known as ecstasy was also found, as was methamphetamine – the drug ‘crystal meth’ made in the TV show Breaking Bad. Salbutamol, a drug used in asthma inhalers also showed up.
The scientists said that the ‘source of the widespread cocaine contamination is unclear’.
They said that there are small wastewater treatment plants around Suffolk that discharge into watercourses, which can remove up to 90 per cent of cocaine. They said it was ‘unlikely’ that the spreading of deactivated sewage sludge on fields was the source.
Professor Nic Bury from the University of Suffolk said: ‘Whether the presence of cocaine in aquatic animals is an issue for Suffolk, or more widespread an occurrence in the UK and abroad, awaits further research.
‘Environmental health has attracted much attention from the public due to challenges associated with climate change and microplastic pollution. However, the impact of ‘invisible’ chemical pollution (such as drugs) on wildlife health needs more focus in the UK as policy can often be informed by studies such as these.’
The research was published in
WHAT DRUGS HAVE BEEN FOUND IN BRITISH WATERWAYS?
Waterways such as rivers, streams and canals are connected to waste systems and filtration plants.
As a result, they can become contaminated from a variety of sources – both legal and illegal.
For example, cocaine and other illicit drugs such as MDMA, ketamine and methamphetamines are commonly found in UK waterways.
Pharmaceuticals have also been found in trace quantities in shrimp.
Legal drugs such as local anaesthetic Lidocaine, commonly used in dentistry, is also found as it is often used illicitly to ‘cut’ cocaine.
Salbutamol, a drug used in asthma inhalers also shows up along with fenuron, a banned pesticide.
Pesticides are often found in large quantities in streams as they wash off farmland.