News Feature | May 20, 2014

Cocaine Compound Found In U.K. Drinking Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Britain is still partying like it's the '80s, and one potential consequence is that cocaine may be seeping into the nation's tap water.

"In a study to assess the dangers from pharmaceutical compounds appearing in the water we drink, scientists discovered traces of [a cocaine-related compound] after it had gone through intensive purification treatments," the Independent reported this month. 

The study, conducted by the government organization Drinking Water Inspector, screened for benzoylecgonine, the metabolized form of cocaine, at four locations, the Washington Post reported

"The compound, which urine-based drug tests screen for, wasn’t at a high enough level to affect someone who drank the water, and researchers weren’t sure what caused its appearance," the report said. 

Officials indicated that the discovery of this compound in drinking water may not be the result of cocaine use. Benzoylecgonine "is also an ingredient in a popular muscle rub, and there's no way of telling which it came from," according to Sue Pennison of DWI, cited by the Guardian

Other drugs have been found in the U.K.'s drinking water, as well. 

"In a report last year, Public Health England said traces of six pharmaceutical compounds had been found in drinking water: benzoylecgonine, the painkillers ibuprofen and naproxen; carbamazapine, used in treating epilepsy, and its metabolized form carbamazapine epoxide; and caffeine," the Guardian reported. Officials indicated they are unlikely to pose a health risk. 

This problem is not new, Water Online reported last year: "It has long been known that there are trace amounts of PPCPs (pharmaceutical and personal care products) that escape our wastewater treatment plants and end up in waterways, including drinking water sources." 

"Though unregulated, PPCPs are on the EPA’s radar via the Third Contaminant Candidate List (CCL3) and the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) — precursors to possible regulatory action," the report said. 

The recent cocaine study immediately became a part of the drug policy debate in the U.K. Some voices used the findings to support claims that cocaine is a big problem in Britain.

Steve Rolles, an official at the drug policy think tank Transform, argued that the results "were an indication of the scale of the use of the drug in Britain today," the Independent reported.  

“We have the near highest level of cocaine use in western Europe,” Rolles said to the Sunday Times. “It has also been getting cheaper and cheaper at the same time as its use has been going up.”

Reports cited a handful of other high-profile news stories illustrating cocaine use in Britain. For instance, "traces of cocaine have been found in toilet cubicles throughout the Houses of Parliament in tests carried out by a tabloid newspaper," the International Business Times reported. Nearly 4.4 percent of 25 to 29-year-olds use the drug, and it is cheaper there than other nations, the Post report said. 

Cocaine use can lead to heart attacks, strokes and sudden death, according to U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

Check out Water Online's Drinking Water Treatment Solution Center

Image credit: "The colombian dowry,"  maHidoodi © 2006, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

Want to publish your opinion?

Contact us to become part of our Editorial Community.