There are more than 20,000 different prescription drugs available for doctors to administer to their patients.
Get sick. Take a pill. Have a headache? Take a pill. Want to stay awake? Take a pill. Want to go to sleep? Take a pill.
Recent statistics show about two-thirds of all Americans take prescription drugs on a regular basis and these stats don’t account for over-the-counter medicines, illegal, or recreational drugs. That’s a lot of users and a lot of pharmaceuticals.
All of those medicines have to be properly manufactured, handled, transported, disposed of if not used and rendered inert in waste products after taking their trip through the body. That’s a lot to ask, even here in the U.S. where strict standards are in place. In other areas of the world, standards are lax, ignored, even non-existent.
A recent study published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry indicated pharmaceutical pollution is negatively affecting the health of the world’s rivers at home and abroad.
The take away from the study conducted in over 100 countries in over a thousand locations is that almost half the locations had concerning levels of pharmaceutical ingredients in the streams – even in countries where rather strict standards are in effect. Two dozen of these medications were found at unsafe concentrations.
The study looked for and found antidepressants, antibiotics, pain medicines, tranquilizers, and antihistamines at elevated levels.
Here in Michigan, the Department of Environmental Quality regularly samples rivers and waterways to find and isolate locations where “drug pollution” may occur. Ongoing research is attempting to discover ways to detoxify pharmaceutical waste that occurs in wastewater.
It’s not so much illegal drugs as much as the drug pollution is coming as a by-product of the high use of legal drugs and prescriptions. Some of it is the unavoidable result of normal use. Take a pill. It does its work. Your body processes it out sooner or later.
Some of it, no doubt, is from people simply flushing unused medicines down their drains or toilets. Don’t do that.
Most hospitals, clinics and many pharmacies will accept unused medicines and dispose of them properly. Many localities sponsor specific days on a recurring basis where unused or out-of-date medicines can be gathered at community centers, fire departments, or other locations. Keep an eye or ear out for these opportunities near you and use them.
Pharmaceutical pollution is a problem for fish, wildlife, and anyone who uses that water for any purpose.
The solution starts at the individual level.