Scientists have found cocaine in all prawns when testing rivers for chemicals. Other illicit drugs, such as ketamine, were also widespread in the shrimps.
Scientists from King’s College London, in collaboration with the University of Suffolk, made the “surprise” discovery after taking samples from 15 locations across the mostly rural county of Suffolk including the rivers Alde, Box, Deben, Gipping and Waveney.
“Such regular occurrence of illicit drugs in wildlife was surprising,” study author Dr. Leon Barron of King’s College London said in a statement released by the school. “We might expect to see these in urban areas such as London, but not in smaller and more rural catchments.”
Their research focused on the presence of various micropollutants or harmful chemicals found in trace amounts in the tiny aquatic animals. Still, the impact those pollutants could have on wildlife isn’t yet clear, according to researchers.
The presence of cocaine isn’t the shrimps’ fault, according to the study. Researchers said drugs and consumer products frequently make their way into rivers after they’re used by humans, which can damage animals and the environment.
“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,” lead author Dr. Thomas Miller of King’s College said in a statement.
“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. Although for many of these, the potential for any effect is likely to be low,” Miller 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,” Professor Nic Bury of the University of Suffolk said in a statement.
But he added that “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.”