Fish in UK rivers contain traces of cocaine, ketamine, and other narcotics

Fish in UK rivers contain traces of cocaine, ketamine, and other narcotics

Scientists have discovered traces of illegal narcotics in freshwater shrimp following an investigation of five rivers in Suffolk, England.

Notorious party drugs such as cocaine were found by the researchers who were studying 15 sites around the rivers Deven, Alde, Stour, Waveney, and Gipping in order to ascertain what chemicals were in the water.

A shrimp boat managed to catch a whole kilo of cocaine:

Alarmingly, the team detected cocaine in every single sample - and ketamine, MDMA, methamphetamine were also found in the shrimp. Salbutamol, a drug used in asthma inhalers, was detected as well.

The scientists, from King's College, worked together with the University of Suffolk to collect the samples from the countryside rivers.

"Such regular occurrence of illicit drugs in wildlife was surprising," says Dr. Leon Barron of King’s College London. "We might expect to see these in urban areas such as London, but not in smaller and more rural catchments."

Cooked mantis shrimp for sale at an evening market on Mahabandoola Rd. Credit: Getty

"The presence of pesticides which have long been banned in the UK also poses a particular challenge as the sources of these remain unclear."

Overall, 56 different narcotics were discovered - cocaine and lidocaine being the most commonly detected.

"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," says lead author, Dr. Thomas Miller from King’s College London."

"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."

cocaine Credit: Getty

According to the research team, the "source of the widespread cocaine contamination is unclear".

"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," adds Professor Nic Bury from the University of Suffolk.

"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."