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Medicines pose global environmental risk, experts warn

Published: November 16, 2019
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Source: AFP

Residues from billions of doses of antibiotics, painkillers and antidepressants pose a significant risk to freshwater ecosystems and the global food chain, a new analysis said Thursday.

There are growing fears that the unchecked use of antibiotics in both medicine and agriculture will have adverse effects on the environment and on human health.

When animals and humans ingest medicines, up to 90 percent of active ingredients are excreted back into the environment.

Many medicines are simply discarded — in the United States alone an estimated one third of the four billion drugs prescribed each year ends up as waste.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) compared data on concentrations of pharmaceutical residue in water samples worldwide as well as prescribing trends and water purification regulations in various countries.

One study cited in its report estimates that 10 percent of all pharmaceuticals are potentially harmful to the environment — including hormones, painkillers and antidepressants.

The OECD said that antibiotic use for livestock is predicted to rocket by more than two thirds in the next decade, stoking concerns over antibiotic resistance.

Human prescriptions are also set to drastically increase, according to the report.

“We’re seeing constant engineering of new pharmaceuticals and seeing clinical practices evolve to include recommendations of earlier treatment and higher doses,” said the lead report author Hannah Leckie.

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