Scientists: Cocaine Showed Up in Every Shrimp Tested

Illegal drugs and pesticides were detected in a variety of shrimp and other aquatic life when scientists investigated contamination levels on the east coast of England.

The study was published in the scientific journal, Environment International, in which scientists analyzed shrimp samples from “15 sites covering 5 river catchments across Suffolk, UK.”

They tested for 107 different compounds — everything from illicit drugs to pesticides — and found that cocaine was the most common substance found in 100% of all test subjects.

Graphical Abstract from study:
Biomonitoring of pesticides, pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs in a freshwater invertebrate to estimate toxic or effect pressure

Other drugs found in the shrimp include ketamine, Tremadol, and antidepressants. Lidocaine — often used to bulk up cocaine by dealers — was also present. The presence of these drugs is believed to have reached the shrimp by being flushed through the local sewer systems.

“Such regular occurrence of illicit drugs in wildlife was surprising,” said Dr. Leon Barron, the co-author of the study. They expected to find a drug presence around the major cities but not in the more rural areas.

Pesticides were also present, including some that are currently banned in the UK.

Fig. 1. Sampling locations of collected biota and surface water samples within the respective river catchments of Suffolk. Black dots indicate urbanised areas.

“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,” said Dr. Thomas Miller, the lead author of the study at King’s College London. “Although for many of these, the potential for any effect is likely to be low.”

Professor Nic Bury, another co-author of the study, said, “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 like these.”