The pharmaceutical industry has faced increasing pressure to develop better methods of disposal for the chemicals and substances that make up the drugs they produce. The past few years has seen an increase in the amount of prescription drug residue passed on by human excrement into our waterways. It is unknown what the exact quantities are, but scientists have uncovered hermaphroditic fish and developmentally disabled frogs that were caused by antidepressants.
The Associated Press even conducted an investigation into drinking water in 2008 that revealed our taps could contain traces of these drugs. Much like how we developed safer aerosol sprays and laundry detergents, manufacturers are developing ways to create more eco-friendly prescription medications to help save our environment from further harm.
Pfizer scientist Buzz Cue Jr. and German chemist Klaus Kummer are prominent researchers who have pushed for a worldwide movement to produce eco-friendly drugs. This new class of drugs, called “benign by design” are difficult to produce because the same mechanisms that make them effective medications make them problematic for disposal. Their biochemical potency and resistance to degradation make them difficult to absorb into the environment.
Current Eco-Friendly Medicines
Some drugs already work well when it comes to having a low environmental impact. For example, glufosfamide, a popular pancreatic cancer treatment, is extremely biodegradable, as is valproic acid, an epilepsy medication. Viagra is another medicine that quickly degrades when it passes through the body. Medication that breaks down easily in the environment are known as Biologics, and are comprised of 100% natural compounds that break down easily in the environment.
One way that manufacturers are creating more sustainable drugs is to install environmental triggers that could spur decomposition. For example, making drugs photodegradable could help make them quickly decompose when exposed to light. Another possible method would be to lower the dosages of prescription medications and figure out better ways to deliver concentrated amounts of the drug to the specific areas they need to reach. This could be done through the introduction of binds to specific molecules that take specific pathways through the human body.
Finding the Profit
Companies are hesitant to create more eco-friendly drugs because there is currently little incentive to invest towards this. Changing the chemical makeup of drugs is an expensive and time consuming process. In 2006, the European Union passed pharmaceutical regulations that established minimum standards for lowering the environmental risk of new drugs. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency compiles a list of contaminants for manufacturers to be aware of and reduce their production for. Since 2009, the list has included a growing number of popular pharmaceuticals
Finding the Motivation
Until we start to see greener drugs on the market, the only way we can cut back on environmental pollution is to consume less prescription medication. America faces an epidemic of being over prescribed for medications such as opioids and antidepressants. Unfortunately, clinicians find it easier to prescribe a psychoactive drug in lieu of continued therapy. As legions of Americans are getting addicted to these prescription medications, polluting not only their bodies but their surrounding environment.
Matthew Boyle is the Chief Operating Officer of Landmark Recovery drug and alcohol rehab center and has been working in the healthcare space for 7 years now with a new emphasis on recovery. Before his ventures into healthcare, Matthew graduated from Duke University in 2011 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree. After Duke Matthew went on to work for Boston Consulting Group before he realized where his true passion lied within Recovery. His vision is to save a million lives in 100 years with a unique approach to recovery that creates a supportive environment through trust, treatment, and intervention.