Illicit drugs and the environment - A review

Raktim Pal, Megharaj Mallavarapu, Kenneth Kirkbride, Ravi Naidu

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    226 Citations (Scopus)


    Illicit drugs and their metabolites are the latest group of emerging pollutants. Determination of their concentration in environment (such as water bodies, soil, sediment, air) is an indirect tool to estimate the community level consumption of illicit drug and to evaluate potential ecotoxicological impacts from chronic low level exposure. They enter the wastewater network as unaltered drugs and/or their active metabolites by human excretion after illegal consumption or by accidental or deliberate disposal from clandestine drug laboratories. This article critically reviews the occurrence and concentration levels of illicit drugs and their metabolites in different environmental compartments (e.g., wastewater, surface waters, groundwater, drinking water, and ambient air) and their potential impact on the ecosystem. There is limited published information available on the presence of illicit drugs in the environment, reports are available mainly from European countries, UK, USA, and Canada but there is a lack of information from the remainder of the world. Although the environmental concentrations are not very high, they can potentially impact the human health and ecosystem functioning. Cocaine, morphine, amphetamine, and MDMA have potent pharmacological activities and their presence as complex mixtures in water may cause adverse effect on aquatic organisms and human health. However, there is no current regulation demanding the determination of occurrence of these emerging pollutants in treated wastewater, surface water, drinking water, or atmosphere. Thus, critical investigation on distribution pattern of this new group of emerging contaminant and their potential harmful impact on our environment needs immediate attention.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1079-1092
    Number of pages14
    JournalScience of The Total Environment
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2013


    • Ecotoxicity
    • Emerging contaminant
    • Groundwater
    • Illicit drug
    • Surface water
    • Wastewater


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