A review of ecological effects and environmental fate of illicit drugs in aquatic ecosystems

E. J. Rosi-Marshall, D. Snow, S. L. Bartelt-Hunt, A. Paspalof, J. L. Tank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Although illicit drugs are detected in surface waters throughout the world, their environmental fate and ecological effects are not well understood. Many illicit drugs and their breakdown products have been detected in surface waters and temporal and spatial variability in use translates into "hot spots and hot moments" of occurrence. Illicit drug occurrence in regions of production and use and areas with insufficient wastewater treatment are not well studied and should be targeted for further study. Evidence suggests that illicit drugs may not be persistent, as their half-lives are relatively short, but may exhibit "pseudo-persistence" wherein continual use results in persistent occurrence. We reviewed the literature on the ecological effects of these compounds on aquatic organisms and although research is limited, a wide array of aquatic organisms, including bacteria, algae, invertebrates, and fishes, have receptors that make them potentially sensitive to these compounds. In summary, illicit drugs occur in surface waters and aquatic organisms may be affected by these compounds; research is needed that focuses on concentrations of illicit drugs in areas of production and high use, environmental fate of these compounds, and effects of these compounds on aquatic ecosystems at the concentrations that typically occur in the environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-25
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
StatePublished - Jan 3 2015


  • Aquatic organisms
  • Cocaine
  • Freshwater
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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