TED Conversations

Allison Walter

This conversation is closed.

What is more important: Our drugs or our ecosystems?

Originally created to support human health and treat illnesses, pharmaceuticals are being scrutinized as a new class of water pollutants with potentially devastating effects on our ecosystems. Drugs including antibiotics, anti-depressants, birth control pills, and painkillers have been detected in our water sources. The remains of these drugs enter water systems through industrial waste, medical facilities, household toilets, and other methods of disposal. They then pass through sewage treatment facilities and into groundwater, irrigation systems, and waterways from lakes to oceans.

Numerous studies suggest that pharmaceutical wastes pose a significant environmental threat. For example, commonly used anti-depressants and birth control pills are being blamed for reducing fish sperm levels in lakes. Many aquatic and terrestrial organisms rely on fish for their own food and survival; therefore these drugs can be detrimental to biological diversity. Scientists are concerned that traces of pharmaceuticals in our water sources can be linked to abnormalities ranging from frog mutations, inter-sex fish, to an increase in cancer and behavior changes in aquatic organisms.

With the rise of global drug consumption, how much responsibility do the pharmaceutical companies have to protect the environment? How much responsibility do we have as individuals to stop taking these drugs if they cause harmful effects on the environment? Do the benefits we gain from drugs outweigh the long-term and irreversible impact they may have on our ecosystems?

Share:
  • May 7 2012: Part 2 of 2
    For example, if the people working in the pharmaceutical companies operated from attitudes of care and concern for all of humanity and our world, rather than from selfish monetary profit motives that exploit others and our environment, the global impact of the products they make would have been considered and implemented in sustainable ways, from cradle to cradle (C2C).

    As consumers of these products, we would be educated to know what to do with them. Not only how to take them as necessary for health reasons, but also how to recycle the packaging, what to do with expired products, and so on, C2C.

    What humanity really needs now is not more bandaid discussions on symptoms that have arisen, but rather, we all need to come together around the round table of our world, like members of one united, global human family, and make new environments, communities, and business processes that operate from the best benefical good of every single person on this planet, none excluded.

    Implementing educational environments in every aspect of society and media that supports these attitudes of compassion, care, and altruism, is key to us all uniting to come back into balance with nature's laws of harmony on all levels. These are certainly exciting times, as humanity is shifting to a new evolutionary level!

    Part 2 of 2
    • E Pines

      • +9
      May 7 2012: I think that Caitlin Luview is making a critically important obervation here, and indeed the focus of the question should shift. I have family and friends with such problems as bipolar and diabetes. To just "drop pharmaceuticals" representst to them a sentence from life time lock up to death.

      However, a caring world would not only have made safe decomposition and processing an equal priority without outfox-the-fox enough government scrutiny, but would concern itself with environmental impacts that might have played a role beyond natural genetics in the development of such mental and phyical diseases.

      The key is mutual care, responsibility, and guarantee. If we inculcate that through education and social pressure, the rest would likely follow.
  • May 7 2012: Part 1 of 2

    Hello all. I hope I am not too late with this comment. I appreciate that Allison has concern for the interconnections between things, and it is this kind of thinking and seeing, this conscious way of being in consideration of others and our world in all that we do, that really is the solution to the question that has been posed here.

    We all now live together in an integral globalized world. All levels of society--whether in politic, economics, healthcare, ecology, etc.--exist today on a day to day basis in ways of interconnection and interdependence. Yet, how many of us truly understand this global, interconnected reality we are all living in together, and how many of us live our lives accordingly? It is this understanding of our integrality that humanity--as a species on this planet that is a part of nature and not above nature and its laws--needs to come to, in order for attitudes and behaviors to flip and turn toward resolution, which is basically from our selfish egoism to compassion and care for each other and our world. Through globalization, nature itself has conspired to cause humanity to shift from being concerned with "me, me, me," to reaching outside of ourselves and caring instead for our global "we."

    If you'll consider this for a moment: I don't think the question you are really asking at its core, is about drugs or ecosystems at all. These are merely surface symptoms that have arisen in our world from a deeper root cause.

    Everything that occurs, everything that we see outside of ourselves, is a projected reflection of our social relationships with one another. The health or lack in these social relationships is the root cause for every thing and every issue.

    Part 1 of 2
  • thumb
    May 6 2012: I think its harsh to say that people should stop using drugs. Perhaps some of the people who have already commented are fortunate enough to not need pharmaceutical drugs, but that's not always the case. Many people that I care about are only able to function from the help of pharmaceuticals because of complications with MS, cancer, clinical depression and schizophrenia. Saying that people should change the way they live their lives, and suffer through their pain, disease and mental illness is very easy to say when you are not suffering. I don't think that people not taking drugs is the problem. How the drugs are produced and how waste is managed is more the issue. It's unfortunate that estrogen and progesterone hormones are altering fish populations, but saying that women shouldn't take birth control isn't an option. More damage would be done by a skyrocketing global population than intersex fish. There are ways to mitigate the hormones in our waste water system. Those methods just need to be more widely implemented. And government regulations should control how pharmaceutical companies produce and manage the production of their drugs. It's a complicated problem, but blaming people who need drugs to live isn't an option.
  • thumb
    May 7 2012: I personally don't think that it is the pharmaceutical companies responsability to address this problem, because what can they really do? They cannot control how individuals dispose of their products or what happens to them after they get out of the factory and I'm sure slowing down production or stopping production of those harmful products will never happen. If there is some slight way to modify the products to make it safer in the water then obviously I think they should do that, but that could be a ways in the future. The main steps must be taken by the general public to determine what is going to happen to the water quality based off of what they want to do about it and how far they are willing to go to ensure that water quality.
    • thumb
      May 7 2012: Theresa I think your comments are worth discussing at a public forum. Even if pharmaceutical companies took on the responsibility of addessing the waste disposal issue, how would they control what people REALLY do when disposing? And it is just an unfortunate situation when using nature to help us enjoy a better quality of life results in our jeopardizing that nature itself. Every person should take on the responsibility of being a good custodian of the earth. It would be helpful, however, if pharmaceutical companies would educate the public on the waste and how to dispose of it safely. Each byproduct of waste would probably have its own safe or unsafe materials. Can some be safely disposed of by throwing in the landfills? Or flushing down the toilet? Or should there be a recycling center for unused drugs and let the experts deal with it? Interesting ideas. Thanks for sharing.
  • thumb
    May 7 2012: While I think the "smart" thing to do would be to reduce the production of pharmaceuticals for the benefit of the environment, I can't in good conscience say people should be denied drugs if they have a serious condition that requires it. If it doesn't involve a serious condition, however, I think it's worth the sacrifice.
    I think one of the trickier items in that grey area of "improves life but not strictly necessary" area is birth control. Aside from increasing life quality, it does wonders to reduce population growth, and in my opinion overpopulation is just as dangerous to the environment as pollution. Honestly I think in that case the benefits outweigh the cost, even though strictly speaking everyone could live without birth control. It wouldn't even be necessary if people only had sex when they wanted to have kids, but isn't even close to being feasible for several reasons.
  • thumb
    May 7 2012: On the individual level, it would have to be on a case-by-case basis, because everyone's circumstances are different. If the person in question does not need the drug to function properly, then it shouldn't be too hard to argue that he/she should stop taking the drug. On the other-hand, if the drug is needed to help with a terminal disease or similar, then allowances should be made, unless viable alternatives are found.

    This should mean though that pharmaceutical companies should start R&D for more environmentally safer drugs, as well as perhaps finding more effective ways to dispose of trace chemicals that do environmental harm. Or, if they are unable/unwilling to do so, perhaps they could set up/fund a group that _would_ be willing/able to.

    Admittedly, this may end up being harder than I make it sounds; the most important thing perhaps is to gather more information, do more research, and make people more aware.
    • thumb
      May 7 2012: Wayland, good conclusions for consideration. Maybe hospitals or pharmaceutical companies could sponsor student research just for determining the safe way to dispose of drugs without damaging the environment. People need to take responsibility for their actions.
  • thumb
    May 7 2012: The extent to which the drug companies are effecting the environment is unknown, and needs to be more fully understood. If the companies continue to use procedures that put the environment at risk, the ecosystems surrounding them might be disrupted and the services they provide would be lost. They should be forced to account for their waste and be responsible for monitoring the side effects of the drugs on the environment.
    • thumb
      May 7 2012: Morgan, these are good discussion points. We need to understand the full impact of drugs on the environment, and it is only logical that pharmaceutical companies would have the best and newest information on this because in the research before production, they must provide the government with all the side affects and related issues to the product. The information about waste should already be known by the pharmaceuticals, and they should have to pass this on to the government for oversight but to the consumer for disposal methods.
  • thumb
    May 7 2012: Pharmaceutical companies need to take more responsibility for the drugs they produce and ensure they pass environmental standards before they are put on the market. Drugs should also be considered for necessity before being released, for example if diet pills or multivitamins were found to harm the environment, they should be taken off the market because they do not treat life threatening conditions and have debated health impacts.
    It seems like the biggest issue is the unknown effects of many drugs on the environment, so the first order of business should be to investigate the effects of certain medications on the environment. While it may not be feasible to test every single drug on the market, drugs often fall into categories based on similar molecular structure so studying key structures would be a good starting point and then further testing can be undertaken if deemed necessary.
    This is what should ideally happen, but testing is expensive and time consuming so companies are not going to want to participate and will lobby heavily to oppose any legislation on the matter. Therefore, a more realistic solution would be to spread information about drug affects on the environment and make people aware of the situation. I don't think that many think about medical impacts on the environment but more importantly, many see human health as a non-negotiable issue. When someone is sick or dying the expectation is that they will be treated and the environmental impacts of this action are not debated. Just as it is hard to put a price on environmental preservation it is hard to place a number value on human health, so balancing the two is difficult. While I want to protect and preserve the environment, I also want access to modern medicine.
  • thumb
    May 7 2012: As grateful as I am that there are pharmaceuticals, the overuse of them in the US is out of hand. It seems like every time I go to the doctor with even the slightest problem such as acne, they put me on antibiotics. I completely disagree with this ideology. I think the fact the alternative treatments such as acupuncture are becoming more accepted in America is a good sign, but it is not enough. Our entire health care system is out of alignment, but the power of pharmaceutical companies is the most important issue to address. These companies should be worried about the effect their drugs have on biodiversity, with out biodiversity their ability to find now drugs will be severely limited.
    • thumb
      May 7 2012: I have to agree with the comment that the use of medications, especially antibiotics, is out of alignment in the US. Our doctors are paid, through incentives from pharmaceutical companies to subscriber drugs to our population. Good health care begins with prevention. It is hard for many americans to see the "down side" to drug use because it is heavily advertised to us and displayed as "miracle cures". This holds true with birth control. I truly feel that if Women were told how birth control medications work, instead of just being handed them at 15 years old, women would be able to make a better decision about taking a drug that alters their physiology and makes them function unnaturally for years, if not decades. Once people can grasp the affects the drugs have on their bodies, they may be able to understand what the drugs can do to the area they are disposed of in.
  • thumb
    May 7 2012: It is true that the discovery of pharmaceuticals was extremely successful in decreasing disease and deaths in the human race. It is also true that many people rely on drugs like anti-depressants and pain killers to get from one day to the next. We are now in a world where things like this have become a major part of our daily lives. Its interesting to think that something that has helped our specie succeed so much is at the same time preventing other species from doing the same. Nevertheless, even though pharmaceutical companies are doing much of us a favor by relieving us of our pain and disease, I think they should take responsibility for causing harmful effects on the environment. And after seeing what effects drugs have on the rest of the environment, pharmaceutical companies should try thinking of alternative ways to make medicine that is helpful but also will not harm the environment. I understand that this is a lot easier said than done, but with an advancement such as stated, we would be one step closer to conserving what matters, ourselves as well the environment and biodiversity. Also, I don't think the pharmaceutical companies are not the only ones to blame, as us, the general population are the ones that use the drugs. Like I mentioned earlier, people rely on these kind of drugs to get from one day to the next. I always wonder, is it really necessary? Do we even know when is necessary or not anymore? As the general population, I think its important to realize that its not healthy to rely on medication everyday as well.
  • thumb
    May 6 2012: Of course pharmaceutical companies should be responsible for the waste the release into the environment. Each company should be aware of the dangerous effects on the environment and know that no one else will clean up their mess, so they have to take charge and monitor it themselves. No one want to pollute our waters, but I'm sure pharmaceutical companies cut corners in order to increase their profit, but this is no excuse.
    • thumb
      May 7 2012: Casey your comments have a lot of merit. Profit is the goal for companies, and pharmaceuticals are a big profitable business in the world. R&D is expensive and requires a lot of time; however, in the process they become aware of all the effects their product would have on lab animals, people, and ultimately the environment. It is pretty amazing, tho, when you think about it, that we take from nature to help our lives and then return to nature the product in a new form. As with all things, there are probably good side effects to products if only we knew how to manipulate and use them. Thank you for the thoughts.
  • thumb
    May 6 2012: If you guys would put in a decent waste water management system this whole discussion would be unnecessary. By their nature the vast majority of pharmaceuticals are organic compounds that are broken down in well designed tertiary sewage treatment facilities. If there are pharmaceuticals in your waterways your sewage treatment facility isn't doing its job.
  • May 6 2012: I believe that pharmaceutical companies would have to regulate the impact or create more environmentally friendly drugs. I say this because it is nearly impossible to think of a situation where an individual who depends on a drug which benefits them. This naturally may not be the best situation but its probably the most realist. The consumer can however help pressure pharmaceutical companies to create drugs with less impact. It appears that pharmaceutical companies may not ever need to change as so many depend on them much like oil companies have little reason to change until the oil dries up.
  • May 6 2012: Last year I took Biology 410, biology in politics. Part of the course was dedicated to estrogenic compounds in the environment, a large portion of which are there due to birth control pills. We also spent some time discussing what could be a solution to the problem. As has already been pointed out here, Americans are not going to give up their pharmaceuticals. One solution could be some form of treatment in sewage treatment plant, but there are a number of issues with this problem. First off, any treatment carries the threat of the treatment being worse than the problem. Additionally, there are so many different drugs contributing to this issue that there is no single treatment that would alleviate the problem.

    The class consensus was that there needs to be a shift in American lifestyle. Americans consume drugs incredibly rapidly, and for any little issue. The pharmaceutical companies foster this lifestyle, because it makes them money. We as Americans need to make an effort to reduce our unnecessary drug intake. This lifestyle shift, combined with a few specific treatment plans for the really problematic compounds like those that mimic estrogen, will need to be enough.
    • thumb
      May 6 2012: Biological tertiary treatment involves the water moving through a series of ponds. The water takes about a week to move through each pond. The first pond grows mainly bacteria and algae and smells bad but it breaks down the majority of organic compounds. By the time it comes out of the last pond the water is clean enough to put back into the treatment system for the domestic water supply. We don't actually do the full recycle in most cases because the general public can't cope with the thought of second hand water even though tests show the recycled stuff is indistinguishable from the normal domestic supply.
    • thumb
      May 7 2012: I agree that people now like to take the easiest route possible to solve there problems. Sometimes this includes taking a lot of drugs. Yes there are drugs that are extremely helpful and that could be argued necessary. But most of the drugs that seem to be negatively impacting out aquatic ecosystems are drugs created and distributed due to our lifestyle. I think it starts at the doctors and them not being so willing to give out prescriptions so easily especially for problems that can be solved with lifestyle changes. It starts with the doctors being educated on this idea, and then their patients will listen to them. The general public will look to the doctors and listen to what they say. It starts with the doctors to help save our ecosystems.
  • May 6 2012: This adds to Lisa Murphy's point...
    Some might think the following goes too far, but I ask you to consider it in a rational sense of being mindful and as an attempt to reason one potential solution:
    Maybe there could be an easier method of waste handling in order to divert excreted and disposed drugs from entering the ecosystem? If one drives a car (grandfather clause excluded) without a catalytic converter in the USA then one can receive a $10,000 fine (or more?) since the exhaust fumes are found to be highly disruptive to general health. Why not impose such a rigorous consideration on improper disposal of drugs in residential waste, including septic disposal?
    Obviously, first we would need a method to isolate drugs from improper disposal routes.
    Could a system be established to supply people with an agent for reacting/degrading residual drugs in excretions at source - before dilution (it would certainly help people realise the truth about ingesting 'active' chemicals and force a minimal level of responsibility in a culture being excessively medicated)?
    The proposal is that each drug supplied to people should come with a degrading agent (if necessary) which would allow pharmaceutical companies (and consumers) to think responsibly about the drug life cycle.

    We can no longer afford to live in a throw-away culture, it is too irresponsible.
  • May 6 2012: I work in a lab, and I see chemicals that, while not branded "toxic", still get dumped down the sink. Sure, they may not be pure "poison" in the way we think of the word, but why does that mean that they will have no effect on the organisms who live in the water into which these chemicals will eventually be dumped? I think that there is potential to greatly reduce the amount of drugs that go into the water merely by having the laboratories that make them practice greener and cleaner chemistry. Perhaps if all waste is treated as toxic, then fewer drugs will end up in the water in the process of making them.
  • thumb
    May 6 2012: Obviously irreversible damage to the environment and ecosystems we live in is not a good thing. But people will not just give up their drugs, so there has to be a way to get pharmaceutical companies to become more eco-friendly and sustainable, and research should be done to find ways to safely break down medicinal compounds that survive after passing through the human body so that they do not harm the environment anymore. So I think it is very important to look at the environment and human pharmaceutical manufacturing and consumption on a larger scale so that the interactions between the two can be better analyzed and perhaps ways to minimize damage from one to the other can be found.
    • thumb
      May 7 2012: Lisa, you share my sentiments on this subject. I know that I will never throw away unused and expired medications without remembering what they MAY do to the environment. The problem remains that no government agency, like the FDA or CDC, has approached this problem with a public solution.
  • May 6 2012: offcource our eco sysytem
  • thumb
    May 6 2012: Considering that medicine started in nature, I think that the effect that pharmaceuticals has an the environment is very important to consider. For example, salicylic acid comes from the willow tree and is the main active ingredient in Aspirin. This idea ushers to the fact that not only pharmaceutical wastes need to be of concern, but any pollution that alters the environment. The environment has given so much to the human race that it needs to be protected. There needs to be more public education on the effects of pharmaceutical wastes.
    • May 6 2012: "The environment has given so much to the human race that it needs to be protected."

      This line of reasoning is not optimally rational. It uses the social concept of reciprocity and applies it to the environment, a non-personal non-intentional system. The real question should be, "How much more can the environment give us iff we protect it, and at what ethical and economic cost is this protection feasible?"
      • May 6 2012: Bernd,
        There is rarely an 'economic cost' worth considering when ethics are involved, though in this instance one might find that the 'economic cost' is potentially quite high if we do not solve the topic in question.

        That which is optimally rational and that which is optimally ethical are only potentially in sync if we take rationality to a grand open level without assumption. There are some people who believe that other forms of life should be taken within moral consideration. May be some people believe plants are not worthy of moral consideration, may be some think that of other animals, and even some think that of certain other humans.
        If one tries to draw moral lines on purely logical scenarios then the result will almost certainly leave out important virtues. So an equally relevant question to follow yours is:
        How can one not 'protect' the envionment, especially considering the moral (and other) cost of not doing so?
        • May 6 2012: Enrico,

          irrationality is not conducive to ethical behavior. It doesn't matter what ethical values you have, as long as they are consistent and really your values, you are always better off being rational than irrational in implementing your ethics.

          I do take other forms of life into moral consideration, both domesticated animals and wild animals - which suffer greatly in nature. If you will, take a look at my comment three comments below. My objection to Kirsten Gotting was aimed at the personification of the environment as if it were a person to which we owe reciprocity. This is an understandable emotional stance for a social primate, which we all are, but it is a category error and as humans, we have the cognitive privilege of detecting such errors and correcting our conclusions accordingly. Nature is not our Mother, it does not keep tabs on what it has provided us, and it does not have interests and emotions. This should not be confused with wild animals living in it, which do have interests and emotions, but which also suffer greatly in their natural state and never consented to their existence in that state - it is up to humans to decide whether we want to alleviate their suffering, and how.

          Your final question neither contradicts mine nor is it independent from mine - it is implicit in mine. If (and only if) not protecting the environment has economic and moral costs, as your question implies, then it logically follows that its protection has an ethical and economic net benefit for our values, the consideration which was precisely expressed in my original question responding to Kirsten Gotting.
      • thumb
        May 6 2012: I don't consider reciprocity to be isolated to human interactions. To me reciprocity is a mutual exchange. Mutual exchanges occur at every scale of life, an environmental example would be vampire bats who regurgitate blood in order to feed other individuals in the same group, or the relationships that many plants have with mycorrhizal fungi. These kinds of inter-species interactions shape ecosystems, and disturbances (such as human pollution) are detrimental to this function.
        The original question posed by Allison asked how much responsibility individuals and pharmaceutical companies have to the environment, due to the evidence presented about how drugs can harm the environment, and how much the benefits of drug use outweigh environmental destruction. The question, "How much more can the environment give us iff we protect it, and at what ethical and economic cost is this protection feasible?" does not take into account the amount of services that have already been withdrawn from the environment, and how the resultant waste and pollution from this withdrawal currently damages ecosystems. There needs to be more caution when allowing the exposure of any kind of drug to the environment as the affect of the drug on an entire ecosystem is generally unknown.
      • May 6 2012: Bernd, I do not see your reciprocity objection as rational and Kirsten has effectively explained the point.
        Actual ethical values DO matter as well as being self-consistent, any justification otherwise implies potential to rationalise many highly unfavourable moral positions.
        Your question inferred a point of view that is opposed to the point of view my question inferred, that was the reason for re-arguing your question. Neither are necessarily relevant questions unless one seeks to imbalance nature (inferred by your question) or to rebalance it (inferred by my question).

        Your previous comments seem to yield a utilitarian perspective (also noted from your link). Utilitarianism is an incomplete view according to Sandel's online course:
        http://www.ted.com/speakers/michael_sandel.html
        http://www.justiceharvard.org/2011/08/cccb-bioethics-testing-utilitarianism-video/
        I do not find the conclusions in your link perfectly rational, nor do I find your conclusive crucial questions appropriate as they are merely human centric - which is an imbalanced view of nature. Throughout history humans have slowly come to realise that we are not actually the centre of the universe...
        • May 6 2012: Enrico, if you or Kirsten perceived my question about what the environment can still give us as human-centric, then that was a misunderstanding maybe based on poor formulation on my part. It was not meant to be human-centric but related to our general ability to facilitate our values - including our ethics regarding non-human beings.

          Kirsten writes that my utilitarian question does not take into account the amount of services that have already been withdrawn from the environment, and how the resultant waste and pollution from this withdrawal currently damages ecosystems.

          The first part is correct - it does not take into account the amount of good that we have already utilized from the environment. For instance, Kirsten mentioned salicylic acid. We already have this knowledge now and can use it perpetually. Of course, nature may have more similar knowledge in store for us and if so, we should seek it. But there may be diminishing returns to that project. The second consideration, how much waste and pollution damages ecosystems is relevant to the future of human civilization to the degree to which human civilization depends on these ecosystems.

          To me, life in the wild does not have intrinsic value, neither does biodiversity. It has aesthetic value and the animals in the wild have lives that contain some happiness and joy. However, they also contain an extraordinary amount of suffering, and it is vital to understand that these animals never consented to be part of those systems - they ended up there as a function of blind evolution and they lack the cognitive capacities to understand the causes of their predicament, let alone alleviate it. No one wants to be eaten alive by predators, or from the inside out by parasites, or starve to death, or suffer from noxious cold.

          To me, this factor has to be considered when reasoning about the ethics of environmentalism. I am not ready to give up painkillers for my children so that more wild animals can suffer without consent!
      • May 6 2012: Bernd, I believe that I might understand your view more precisely.
        I can not agree with the strict sense of utility where it is being argued, however in the sense of reaching beyond the archaic human utility perspective, I am glad that you seem not to believe that the environment exists purely for human utility but for the utility of all life.
        (Constructive co-existence)
        In that sense I can only presume that you support the idea of permaculture. Within the ethics of environmentalism, one seeks a balance - not necessarily a control - of the system.

        I find the extension of the utilitarian perspective in the sense of your painkiller argument does not retain moral strength when carried to it's rational conclusion: How many animals suffering in the wild are ignored by the very people that defer their attention in order to supply humans with medicine? Surely we should focus on solving the wild animal 'problem' and ignore people from that utilitarian perspective...
        (though I admit I held utilitarian perspectives at some point in the past, obviously I am not really proposing that prior statement except as a rationality test)
    • thumb
      May 7 2012: Kristen, some good food for thought there. I think we humans should be aware of all contributions and reactions of people versus nature. We should be especially conscious of how we "return" byproducts OF nature TO nature.
  • thumb
    May 6 2012: As much as I believe that pharmaceutical companies have the responsibility to protect the environment, consumers have a choice whether to buy a drug or not. To some taking drugs may be necessary, but they can be avoided to a certain degree. Today's lifestyle correlates with an increased number of illnesses and people taking more over the counter and prescribed drugs. I believe that the issue of pharmaceutic companies posing harm on the environment, it's just another issue that can be changed or reduced if people changed how they live their lives.
    • May 7 2012: I agree Stephanie. We can't ask people to flat out stop taking drugs, but we can require that pharmaceutical companies invent and produce drugs in an environmentally friendly or neutral way. Because of the way our drug product lines work, pharmaceuticals are one of the few products used by the masses that can be mandated to be environmentally neutral. This is because most of our drugs are designed and produced within the country and there is no trade involved, unlike other products that often have parts or construction lines in many different countries and bounce around under free trade laws. Since drugs are completely made within the country a federal mandate for environmental standards would be applicable (in comparison to the ban on environmentally harmful products that was proposed for trade goods in 1991 but was turned down under the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs by the World Trade Organization). Unfortunately, such bans, though they are widely viewed as a positive step for environmental health, are not upheld by congress or presidential order due to lobbying efforts. Such a motion for environmental health has to be taken by the companies themselves, who will not move until it can be shown that an environmentally healthy product will be economically beneficial for them (least likely to happen in a business like pharmaceuticals where all products are under patent, but it may happen with some generic producers).
  • May 6 2012: This planet has been in agony for hundreds of millions of years. Homo Sapiens is the first species who has a serious shot at changing that, or at least alleviating it.

    There are two dimensions, the suffering of humans and domesticated animals and the suffering of animals in the wild.

    The suffering of humans and domesticated animals requires pharmaceutical intervention. I know we have survived without, but at what quality of life? Would you undergo surgery without anesthesia? I'd rather die right now.

    The suffering of wild animals is harder for most people to relate to. They think since it is natural, it must somehow be good or at least in an optimal trade-off with quality of life on the planet. I suspect this is rather naive, and it clearly has a religious undercurrent even in seemingly non-religious people - surely Mother Nature wouldn't torture her children? But alas, she does - and routinely so. A deeper analysis on wild animal suffering can be found here: http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/LifeInTheWild20120307.pdf

    In conclusion, the crucial question for me is: How much biodiversity do we need? How much biomass must we keep in a more or less natural state, if we don't want human civilization to collapse? Beyond this, it is not ethically optimal to treat environmentalism as a goal in itself. I certainly wouldn't give up painkillers for it, and I wouldn't want to make my children suffer for it either.
  • thumb
    May 5 2012: I feel that unfortunately, like many things in today's society, pharmaceutical companies are driven mainly by money. I think that showing studies that have found changes in fish populations and a decrease in biodiversity to companies is not enough of an incentive to instill a change in the attitude of the large corporations. People care about what effects them personally and until someone relates how pharmaceuticals getting into water ways directly effects humans then it is unlikely for people to want to do anything, especially if it costs them money. However I do believe that people have a responsibility to be conscious consumers and realize the impact they are having on the environment by taking certain pills. Maybe if more people were educated and realized the impact they were having then the world would become more conscious about the pharmaceuticals it is ingesting.
    • May 7 2012: Amanda, I am in almost total agreement about what you are saying. As is true with most topics related to the environment, lack of education is a huge issue.
      Most people don't even KNOW that the products they are taking on a daily basis have a huge impact on organism and ecosystem health. I think there are a few things that need to happen initially for any substantial change to occur. First and foremost, people need to be educated about what they are taking (or could potentially take at some point). This education needs to start at a young age and become part of a consistent curriculum in our school systems. Part of this education should include instructions on how to properly dispose of left over medications.
      Secondly, pharmaceutical companies need to invest in treatment. This is the tricky part, for reasons that many people participating in this conversation have already mentioned. But the reality is that the pharmaceutical companies have the resources to turn this problem around. They just need the motivation to do so. Generally speaking, this motivation is not going to come from information about environmental degradation. Pharmaceutical companies need to feel that people are going to stop using their products, or at least limit the use of their products, if a change does not occur. Perhaps if pharmaceutical companies that DO invest in the creation or treatment of products that are environmentally neutral were to advertise this benefit, we could start to see a change? I know that, as someone who takes medications on a regular basis, I would opt for an environmentally friendly drug over one that wasn't. In my opinion, we need to find a way to make environmentally neutral drugs a driving force for competition between big pharmaceutical companies. I realize that this outlook is not considering all contributing factors, but it is something to think about.
  • thumb
    May 5 2012: In my opinion the responsibility to protect our environment from these harmful pharmaceuticals falls on both the consumer and the companies. Why not just companies? We cannot sit idly by and assume that companies will take the initiative to help create more environmentally procedures in disposing of these drugs. Also, as consumers we do our fare share of drug dumping into our ecosystems. We are all equally responsible as this is not an issue of where to point the finger but an issue of how to solve the problem as whole cohesive unit. If we cant come together to find a solution then we risk the situation getting even more critical.
    • thumb
      May 7 2012: I completely agree with you Nicholas. Our next step would be coming together to find a solution or we will continue this cycle.
  • thumb
    May 5 2012: I think that the pharmaceutical companies that create these drugs have a tremendous responsibility in how the production facilities handle the byproducts and waste from creating their drugs. Instead of dumping waste into areas that can lead to the ocean and have an effect on the environment, other methods of disposal should be sought out. In addition, the consumers that purchase these drugs need to reconsider what they actually need. If you don't NEED to be on birth control, then don't. Not only is it a waste of money, but our own superfluous drug consumption can lead to long term consequences on biodiversity, which will domino effect right back to us.
  • thumb
    May 4 2012: I think pharmaceutical drug companies and the administrations that regulate their use should consider the drugs impact on the environment. Currently administrative companies only assess the impact of the drug on our bodies, not the impact of drugs on waterways and ecosystems. Although this would increase the development cost of the drug and therefore increase its price, its necessary to keep our ecosystems and corresponding services intact. As citizens, we should pressure the FDA into instigating new regulations in support of eco-friendly drugs. The drugs with negative impacts on biodiversity should be restricted from public use.
    This is not to say that drug companies are the only one to blame. In order to change things, we need to cut down our own consumption. There now seems to be a drug for every problem we face. If we decided to let our body solve some of the minor sicknesses and pains by exercising and eating right, we would greatly reduce the amount of drugs in our waterways.
    • thumb
      May 5 2012: I'm going to be optimistic and propose that addressing your first solution (testing drugs for environmental effects) might also tackle your second (reducing our obsession with medicating ourselves) by making drugs more expensive. As a society, we like to think in terms of money. If something is cheap, we use a lot of it because, well hell, we can afford to. I think the rise in price that would come as a result of testing these drugs cannot be understated. Although there are moral fallacies with testing drugs on human subjects, we can go through great pains to test on animal subjects (another moral fallacy in my opinion) where we can monitor the effects in a closed system. Checking for environmental damages, however, may prove to be a more difficult task as there are seemingly infinite ways a drug can alter an ecosystem. That being said, our consumption seems to be a major factor. Pharmaceuticals, from a human health standpoint, are not inherently bad, but our mistreatment of them is. I agree with you. I think breaking our ridiculous obsession with drugs may have to begin with a greater emphasis on treating the causes of the diseases these drugs fight. That generally means leading much healthier lives; a concept western culture has been losing grasp of.
      • thumb
        May 5 2012: Increasing the price of "drugs" is not the answer. Pharmaceutical companies make astronomical amounts of profit! The money is already there to put into environmental assessments, it just isn't a requirement (and it should be). I completely agree that we live in a pill popping world, but raising prices isn't fair for those that actually need to medicate. People should be educated about the harmful risks of improper disposal of old/unwanted prescriptions when they pick them up. Pharmacies should implement a "buy back" program where patients can receive credit towards their next purchase if they bring back unused medication (like ink cartridges and car batteries!). Doctors need to stop prescribing drugs for health issues that can be treated with diet/exercise/lifestyle changes. There are many small and large steps that could be taken to aid in the preservation of the environment besides putting more financial burden on consumers.
        • thumb
          May 5 2012: Well ideally, the money would come out of the pharmaceutical company's profits. And I know first hand the financial burdens that prescriptions place on families when they actually need to be taken. I suppose I was referring mostly to the already cheap drugs, thus my comment about abusing drugs simply because they are cheap, but that was my fault for not being specific. I think a buy back program would be incredibly beneficial but ultimately only effective for the higher priced prescriptions; the prescriptions that consumers tend not to pour down the drain because they are expensive to replace. We live in a reckless society that, once again, thinks in terms of money. Most over the counter drugs are not necessary for survival. There definitely needs to be an education program that will teach people about the negative effects of drugs on the environment, but I'm skeptical to believe that it will be received well.
  • thumb
    May 4 2012: Pharmaceutical companies do have a responsibility to limit their impact on the environment when it comes to direct pollution, such as dumping chemicals directly into the water supply. However in the case of drugs passing indirectly to the water through facilities and household plumbing, the responsibility shifts away from the drug companies and towards consumers. While people cannot be expected to stop their use of prescription medication, they can be smart about the products they purchase and the way any drugs are disposed. Consumers should not support pharmaceutical companies that do not dispose of their waste properly, and likewise should learn the proper way to discard any unused medication. It also seems that the water treatment plants need improving. With new technology and updated machinery, perhaps there could be a reduction in the amount of chemicals and hormones being deposited in streams, lakes and oceans.
  • May 4 2012: First of all it should be illegal for drug companies to run tv commercials. Smoking ads were banned so should these awful drug commercials. The problem is drug companys charge thousands percent profit on their poison then use that cash to buy politicians who pass laws allowing them to run the ads. Corporations run the show and politicians sell us out. Cycle of greed. Makes me sick. What makes it even worse is that there are natural remedies for these ailments.
    • thumb

      Josh S

      • 0
      May 4 2012: That 'poison' you refer to has elongated the life expectancy by 40 years since the beginning of the 20th century. It has saved millions. It has all but eradicated some of the most deadly types of diseases known to man. in 3rd world countries the biggest killer is viruses/ infections/ things that require drugs to treat. Natural remedies can only do so much and have a much smaller chance of success. Of course, a hot bowl of soup and some rest should be used for a common cold, but for the biggest killers, actual drugs are the best way to go.

      Yes, pharmaceutical companies make millions, but it is only right that they do. They save thousands, millions of lives yearly and earn their pay. You say that they overprice medicine but that is a private system, what you are saying is that you would rather have a government agency responsible for drug consumption, in which case millions would be waiting in line for drugs that take months to arrive.

      Now to answer the question: if you had a loved one in bed and dying, would u do whatever it took to give them the drug that will save them? i would and so would most.
      Of course, there should be regulations to protect the environment, but not to the point where it hurts the ability of the consumer to obtain the drugs they need.
      • May 4 2012: OH REALLY!!!!!!!!!!!! I was two clicks away from this info. surely youre not saying what I think youre trying to say? hmmmmmm? (Dr Evil voice)

        "Whistleblower Dr. David Graham, in testimony before the US Senate, estimated 88,000 to 139,000 Americans experienced heart attacks as a side effect from the drug, and 30 to 40 percent of these died. That would be an estimated 27,000 to 55,000 preventable deaths attributed to Vioxx.
        Nobody is saying it, but it looks like Vioxx did kill many thousands of Americans."

        "Table Of Iatrogenic Deaths In The United States
        (Deaths induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures)
        These projected figures show that a total of 164 million people, approximately 56 percent of the population of the United States, have been treated unnecessarily by the medical industry—in other words, nearly 50,000 people per day."

        I think that might change your life expectancy numbers a bit :)

        I didnt mention anything about the third world but since you bring it up. Lets see where diarrhea is a main killer. Oh yeah where Bill Gates is spending money on meds when all they need is cleaner environment, farming, clean food and water, infrastructure.

        "Yes, pharmaceutical companies make millions" Youre wrong they make billions. Nobody without insurance can afford their "poison" anyway. Remember people were going to Canada to get the same drugs for less money. Oh the govt and the pharma put a quick end to that.

        Now the answer to your answer to the question I never asked. If people lived a healthier lifestyle they wouldn't need the drugs.

        I wasnt talking about life threatening situations but since you painted every drug as a life and death situation and everybody on meds really needs them to stay alive. Well thats your own biased opinion. I hope your loved one is not misdiagnosed or over drugged to death.

        My conclusion: Do you work for pfizer, merck?
        • thumb

          Josh S

          • +1
          May 5 2012: Im actually studying medicine thank you,
          I think you are being a bit closed minded, you gave many examples of misdoings by doctors and side affects, with any drug there is. Did you know that all new drugs require on average 12 years to be passed through the FDA, with 8 of those years spent on side affects? Did you know that the life expectancy is 82 years old for males in 2012 in the US, while in 1912 it was 48 years old? Did you know that smallpox, one of the biggest killer in all of history, has been completely wiped off the face of the earth? Did you know that polio has been all but almost eradicated in multiple countries?
          unfortunately sir, your short sited view of medicine causes you to miss the BILLIONS of lives saved from infectious diseases. For the trade off of a few thousand , let say even 1 million deaths, 1 billion lives to have been saved is completely worth it.

          You talk about mistreatment by doctors, this debate is about medicine and drugs, not by doctor maltreatment which is a different issue..
          Summary: life expectancy has increased by nearly 100% in 100 years, the most deadly disease of the past (smallpox) has been eradicated, and millions are safer. There is no question that drugs and medicine are the best solution
        • May 5 2012: If we consider the issue with less polarisation then one would obviously see the positive effects exhibited throughout history. The unfortunate effects of drug use in certain societies such as the USA is that of a highly over-medicated population. Medications are handed out like candy by some doctors and there is poor or no policing of bad practice among pharmaceutical companies and doctors when acting against the patients' interests for personal profit.

          However, IF one has or might have a serious disease then nearly no one is really questioning the right to access life-saving chemicals (especially vaccine).

          Though not fully amassed, and only applicable in the USA, if you would like to know whether your doctor is in the pocket of drug company then you might start here:
          http://projects.propublica.org/docdollars/

          Living in England, with the NHS, I find my access to healthcare most suitable, just as I am sure those living in Hawaii find US government healthcare suitable.
          'Conventional' wisdom must not be left behind by those studying in a field if it is relevant. It is inappropriate to suggest that moral considerations might be sidelined due to historical numbers in a 'trade off'. This conversation is about responsible drug use... 'Drugs and medicine' are NOT always the best solution to human ailments. If we can be more responsible and intelligent, then surely no one would really argue against doing so?

          How could certain societies not consider the obvious requirement to divert chemical contamination of the environment in light of clear evidence?
        • thumb
          May 5 2012: Rhonda and Josh, I believe that you both bring up valuable points. Together, you guys present how complex this issue can be. Your contradictory statements prove that there is a combination of both pros and cons to the production and consumption of current medicine. Many people in our society hold different viewpoints on the matter and therefore it's hard to come up with a unified conclusion.
        • thumb
          May 6 2012: This whole thread sounds like another good reason for the US to have publicly funded healthcare like every other first world country.
    • thumb
      May 7 2012: I think that this post misses a very important distinction in pharmaceutical production. There is a difference between designer, non-significant, overprescribed drugs and life-saving pharmaceuticals. The human body cannot fight cancer like chemotherapy can and until modern research is capable of finding a way around life-saving drugs, their usage is good and probably inevitable. These are drugs that society can probably conclude provide more good than harm and are thus acceptable drugs.

      Alternatively, the pharmaceuticals that are intended for profit, designers drugs like Viagra, serve to improve quality of life but do not save lives. These types of drugs are the pollutants that society should have greater consciousness about. These are the drugs that we should try to limit our use of, for the sake of the environment at the very least.

      However, herein lies a significant problem: it is incredibly costly to produce effective and safe, life-saving drugs. Money does not flood into pharmaceutical companies to produce these drugs like money floods in to produce designer drugs. This makes the blemish of high prescription rates by doctors for unnecessary drugs in the reputations of pharmaceutical companies almost unavoidable in order for these companies to get the capital necessary to produce the good drugs.

      Pharmaceutical companies are really a catch-22. I don't want birth control and schizophrenia medicine in the water that I drink or in the water near where I live, harming fish, but private financing simply isn't enough for these companies to research and develop the truly beneficial drugs that I, like many others, do want produced.
  • thumb
    May 4 2012: Whatever mess was created by one individual or one company it is their responsibility to clean it up. If they need help in that matter, then we should lend them a hand, but ultimately if a drug is being introduced and knowingly harmful, whomever created the drug or is using it should be aware of the consciences that will come and should not be allowed a get out of jail free card. Without the environment we wouldn't have the drug in the first place, which means there are natural alternatives that can act as an antidote. If there aren't it is up to the pharmaceutical company to start doing complete studies of their product and its affects on the ecosystem. This is an issue that has been around far too long for there to still be drugs that are in production that may harm the environment or anything living in it. We have the technology and smarts to have both medicine and healthy ecosystems.
  • May 3 2012: I take a pragmatic and natural approach. The human body is an amazing system which doesn't need constant intervention from outside drugs but is better off left to it's own devices, the immune system being a incredible system resulting from hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Having found that for my own personal balance and well-being that pharmaceutical drugs are best avoided I am not surprised to hear that the environment at large has the same sensititivities.I don't mean to undermine science which I have a great respect for but we should all be taking a common sense, balanced approach to taking drugs on an individual basis, i.e. as a last ditch resort when all else fails and not as a quick 'solution'. The pharmaceutical industry has a lot to answer for in terms of putting misinformation out there in the mass media/ advertising but at the end of the day it is up to the individual to educate themselves. We are all individuals and it is up to us to find the healthy diet and lifestyle appropriate to ourselves by using our own intelligence. There is no one size fits all solution here. Personally I now avoid the contraceptive pill, antidepresssants and antibiotics comlpetely and use painkillers sparingly, maybe once a year. And I find my health much improved. You should try it.