Dr. Alex Ford from the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Marine Sciences conducted research into the effect of the antidepressant ingredient fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem) on shrimp. He found that shrimp exposed to the antidepressant were much more likely to swim toward light, which makes them more vulnerable to predation from fish and birds. Normally they take cover in darker areas such as shadows and between rocks or near plants to protect themselves. The exposed shrimp were also more sensitive to serotonin which effect moods and sleep patterns in humans.
Dr. Ford explains how the man-made chemical is finding its way to shrimp and other sea life. “Much of what humans consume you can detect in the water in some concentration. We’re a nation of coffee drinkers and there is a huge amount of caffeine found in waste water, for example. It’s no surprise that what we get from the pharmacy will also be contaminating the country’s waterways.”
As Dr. Ford explains, our waste goes directly to the home of shrimp and other marine life. “Effluent is concentrated in river estuaries and coastal areas, which is where shrimps and other marine life live — this means that the shrimps are taking on the excreted drugs of whole towns.”
The problem with shrimp being much more vulnerable to predation is that their populations are likely to be reduced significantly, and they are an important part of the marine food chain.
Prozac is an SSRI antidepressant that is very popular in the United States, and in the UK where the research took place. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the most prescribed, “22.2 million prescriptions for generic formulations of fluoxetine were filled in the United States in 2007.” In the same year, reportedly 31 million prescriptions were filled in the UK.
Prozac and Sarafem are not the only pharmaceuticals winding up in wastewater. With more people living longer and taking more prescription medication, the problem will likely continue to grow.
Image Credit: southgeist