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Keep Pharmaceutical Drugs out of Our Water!

Updated on September 7, 2012

Would you ever consider taking someone else's medicine?

You many have no choice as they may already be in your drinking water.

Over the last few years scientists have detected over 150 different kinds of human and veterinary medicines in the environment.

How do the drugs get into the environment ?

One of the most obvious ways that drugs get into the water system is that people tend to flush their old medicines down the toilet, even though they are requested to return them to the pharmacy. As a result, these chemicals reach water treatment plants that are not designed to remove them all, and become recycled back into the drinking water system.

People are also unwittingly adding drugs to the system just by taking their prescription. When you take a pill only part of the medication is absorbed, and the rest gets flushed away on your next trip to the bathroom.

It is also thought that a certain amount of drug is released directly into water systems by the pharmaceutical companies during manufacture, but this is proving difficult to measure.

The amount of pharmaceuticals sold actually doubled between the years 2000 and 2008, and with an ever ageing population the trend is likely to increase. As a result the level of drugs in our water is only likely to increase.

But pharmaceutical drugs are safe for humans right?

Drugs are tested for safety only in the population for which they are to be prescribed, which is why you should never share them with anyone.

Naturally most drugs are not tested on small children, the very elderly or any other vulnerable groups. Some drugs are already known to have severe adverse effects in people with certain conditions. Even adolescents can have problems resulting from certain drugs, for example antidepressants (which are very widely prescribed these days).

What about the wildlife?

You may think that the quantities of drugs that reach our rivers and lakes are so diluted that they have very little effect on the wildlife, but this is not so. Chemicals accumulate in the bodies of animals and fish over time, and can be concentrated as they are transferred up the food chain.

As an example, female hormones very strongly affect fish and can actually cause feminisation in male fish and naturally has a direct affect on fish stocks. This type of effect is also seen in amphibians.

The antibiotic effect

Excess of antibiotics in he water treatments system can result in the selective growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Because the vulnerable bacteria die off when they are exposed to antibiotics this provides an increased nutrient supply for the resistant types so that their numbers are not kept in check. This is one of the reasons why antibiotics should not be prescribed unless absolutely necessary.

What can be done?

Recently pharmaceutical companies are being encouraged to make their drugs more environmentally friendly, as well as safe to humans. This is not an easy thing to achieve, however, as it can be difficult to predict what the interactions with other environmental chemicals (like pesticides) will be. This is described as a move towards 'green pharmaceuticals' .

If you would like to contribute by joining the campaign to improve water quality then you can take 'Clean Water Action' (this link will also take you to some interesting info if you would like to investigate further).

REMINDER: please return your unused drugs to the pharmacy-regardless of how old they are.

Consider using alternatives to prescription drugs whenever possible, in consultation with your doctor.


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    • profile image 6 years ago

      What good information - from now on I will make a trip to the Pharmacy if we ever have any med's. We tried to always stay with herbs for problems. Since we are both in good health, guess it works just fine.

      Thanks for the hub - voted up, useful and interesting.


    • catsimmons profile image

      Catherine Simmons 6 years ago from Mission BC Canada

      Crazy SD! You'd think that hospitals would know better!

    • SD Dickens profile image

      SD Dickens 6 years ago

      I read an article recently that drinking water in PA has measurable quantities of radio-active iodine of the type used to treat thyroid disease and cancer. They say it came from patients whose meds were flushed into the water system after going to the bathroom. Very scary since this will literally kill your thyroid cells.