Drugs: Human Impact on the Environment

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Executive Summary

Drug manufacturing and disposal harms the environment on a national level throughout the United States of America. The drug residues usually enter into the water supply, which contaminates our surface waters and harms the environment and peoples health. One possibility of solving this issue is to try making ecofriendly biodegradable formulas in order to allow safer excretion. Another possibility of fixing this issue is to raise more awareness and do more research on the problem in order to convince pharmaceutical companies to change the way they make and distribute the drugs.

Context or Scope of the Problem

Everyone seems to only talk about the harmful aspects of fossil fuels polluting the environment because of excessive production, but no one really shows interest on more minor issues that still impact and damage the environment negatively. Both prescription and illegal drug production and disposure harms the environment in ways people have never thought before. The reason why drugs are not portrayed in the media as much for environmental problems is because the main focus of the media regarding drugs is always aimed at drugs damaging human health. Some ways that drugs harm the environment are portrayed through our waters, our wildlife, and our plant life.

Contaminants travel to more than one hundred fifty different areas for pharmaceutical production all across the United States (Foundations Recovery Network). The water supply is in danger because of drugs. In the article, The Environmental Impact of Growing Drugs, it states, A United States Geological Survey found that 80 percent of American’s streams and almost 25 percent of US groundwater was contaminated by numerous medications, (Foundations Recovery Network). This illustrates how vulnerable the water supply can be if contaminated with drug residues. Another way the chemical byproducts end up in our water supply and make it contaminated is by human consumption of the drug. It is natural for the body to digest anything we ingest, so when humans use the restroom, all the chemicals that are digested are incorporated into the urine and feces, which enters into the sewage system, and from there, it gets entered into our groundwater. Excreting wastes is a natural function of the human body, and there is no way to shut that function off, so because of the ingredients of the drugs, the environment will suffer of contamination.

Not only do the chemicals of drugs affect groundwater, but it also affects drinking water in which humans consume. According to NDRC, in 2008, the Associated Press reported that researchers surveyed the drinking water of 24 major urban cities, serving 41 million people, and found several pharmaceutical contaminants, including antibiotics, anticonvulsants and mood stabilizers, (Foundations Recovery Network). This proves that drugs are very harmful to humans environmentally because it pollutes drinking water. This is thought to be harmful because people who do not need those chemicals in their body are forced to silently consume it because it is found in their drinking water.

Furthermore, drugs harm the wildlife found in the United States. The ecological community is very fragile and dainty. Drugs can be transferred to wildlife so easily, which harms their lives. One way the ecosystem gets harmed is through deforestation. To name a couple drugs that are harmful to the environment are cocaine and opium because of the intense addictiveness of the drug, which means there is a high demand for it. Cocaine is mostly produced in South America, and this location houses many important species beneficial to the ecosystem. Deforesting an area to grow more drugs devours away the trees where useful species use as shelter, which destroys the quality of the air. Another way drugs influence the environment is through the oceans. This, in turn harms the reproduction of some species. For instance, women who take birth control pills excrete the chemicals out through their urine and feces, and the sewage system transfers the chemically rich water to the oceans, which harms the hormone level of the fish living underwater. The fear behind this is that it would slow down the reproduction rate and this would cause extinction among those species.

In addition, plant life is endangered because of the overproduction of drugs. In the article, What are Drugs Doing to Our Environment it states, Studies show that nearly one quarter of all the deforestation that takes place in Peru is directly associated with burning and clear-cutting for the plants used to make these drugs. Estimates from the Colombian government state that the rainforests lost an area the size of New Jersey to drug production between 1988 and 2008. With the demand for drugs on the rise, more rainforest is being cleared than ever before, (Enviro Editor). This proves that plants are being harmed through these drugs, which concludes in harming the environment. Also, drugs, cocaine in particular, are very illegal which means that the law enforcement will try to get rid of the plantations by burning all of it up, which causes a decrease in plant life and a poorer air quality because of a decrease in oxygen.

Policy Alternatives

The FDA aids in saving the environment from drug exposure by educating consumers and users how to safely dispose drugs. Some of the tips they provide are to participate in drug take-back programs that could be found in pharmacies (Foundations Recovery Network). The FDA also states to not pour medicine into the trash or down the sink. The best way to dispose of medicine is to mix it with coffee grounds or cat litter in a bag and dispose it that way (Foundation Recovery Network). The FDA also allows certain drugs to be flushed down the toilet and they provide a list of the drugs okay to dispose this way. If people follow this, it will prevent the damage being caused onto the environment. There is also a movement called Green pharmacy in which they help protect the environment and water supply. The Green pharmacy concept is basically to design a greener way to manufacture drugs in order to make the least negative impact on the environment. This could be more effective if there was more government funding for research and experiments than what they already do currently.

Policy Recommendations

Despite the fact that there has been some research about drugs ruining the environment in numerous amounts of ways, there is a need for even more research on how to create environmentally friendlier drugs. Certainly, there is a heavy problem of water being contaminated from human excretion, and to solve this issue is to make more biodegradable and greener drugs. However, a problem with doing this would be the drug might not be fully effective, since all the chemicals that are in the drugs now are really strong and helpful. The best possible solution is to create an ingredient that allows an improvement in excretion and decomposition. Sadly, drug manufacturer companies that are not lawfully forced to produce ecofriendly forms of their medication do not have any motivation or stimulation to change anything unless there is a higher form of profit for the pharmaceutical business. In order to make pharmaceutical companies change, the government should enforce stricter laws and consumers should stop buying the drugs that cause the environment harm. The FDA should also regulate drugs more strictly in order to include environmental damage and also human health. This would help the environment, but it would probably cut out a lot of necessary drugs for patients that truly need them for their health. Another way to improve the environment regarding this issue is to increase better technology to reduce wastes from drug residues in the pill making process. The problem with this would be that it would cost money to make or own such machines.

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Drugs: Human Impact On The Environment. (2021, Apr 01). Retrieved October 2, 2023 , from

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