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Researchers Find Cocaine, Ketamine in Shrimp

photo of shrimp

May 2, 2019 -- A new study has found a variety of chemical contaminants, including recreational drugs like cocaine and ketamine, in river shrimp in England. While the amounts may not be enough to affect humans after a single meal, the long-term effects on both wildlife and humans remain 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,” one of the study’s co-authors, professor Nic Bury of the University of Suffolk, said in a news release. “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 study, researchers from King’s College London sought to find out how deeply pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and recreational drugs that wind up in the waterways contaminate the wildlife there.

They collected samples of the freshwater shrimp Gammarus pulex from sites across the county of Suffolk for analysis. All the samples contained small amounts of cocaine, with lidocaine, alprazolam (Xanax), and ketamine appearing in most as well.

Pollution in freshwater seafood is nothing new, but until now, most research has focused on things like pesticides, metals, and plastics. For humans, the concerns mostly focus on how a buildup of the pollution affects you over time.

The King’s College researchers say discovery of recreational and prescription drugs adds another level and needs more focus in future studies.

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on May 02, 2019


News release, King’s College London.

Environmental Defense Fund: “Common questions about contaminants in seafood.”

Environment International: “Biomonitoring of pesticides, pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs in a freshwater invertebrate to estimate toxic effect or effect pressure.”

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