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Allison Walter

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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?


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  • 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.
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      Josh S

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      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?
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          Josh S

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          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:

          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?
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          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.
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          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.
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      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.

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