Although antidepressants can help people overcome depression, hopped up marine animals only belong in cartoons. Small amounts of what we consume end up in the ocean by way of rivers and estuaries in the form of wastewater. With more than thirty million people in the United States taking antidepressants, it’s not surprising that these drugs are making their way into the ocean. And the effect they’re having on wildlife is nothing to be happy about.
Researchers at the University of Portsmouth found that shrimp exposed to the same concentration of the antidepressant fluoxetine found in treated wastewater are five times more likely to swim toward light rather than away from it. That’s bad news if the same thing is happening in the wild. When shrimp swim near the surface, they’re more likely to be eaten by animals such as angelfish and terns. Because shrimp play a vital role in the food chain, their decline could upset marine ecosystems. Stingrays, for instance, eat shrimp hiding in the sand on the sea floor.
Next, the researchers will look at both the effects of fluoxetine on other marine animals such as polychaetes (marine worms) and fish, and the effects of other drugs known to affect serotonin, a neurotransmitter found in all bilateral animals that affects happiness.
There are ways to slow the drug-tide going into the ocean. Although folks frequently flush expired or unwanted drugs down the toilet, the safest way to dispose of meds is to bring them to a local pharmacy, which will properly dispose of them (or give consumers tips on where to take them). Another option is to consult your local hazardous waste disposal center.
Perhaps the old adage “You are what you eat” should be changed to: “The ocean is what you eat.”