Chemical contents of these medicinal mood-lifters are taking a toll on marine life, even in relatively concentrations.
Pharmaceuticals are good for us, or so we hope, but many of the pills we use are bad for the environment. Take contraceptives. Birth control pills allow women to take charge of their reproductive functions. Yet the estrogen content of these pills often leaches into streams and rivers via urine flushed down in toilets and end up impacting the behaviors of fish.
Antidepressant pills are no different, it turns out. Across the developed world, from Finland to the United States, hundreds of millions of people are using or have used antidepressant medications. Yet like birth control pills, antidepressants too come with environmental costs, say two researchers from the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom who have published their findings in a study.
“Our aquatic life is bathing in a soup of antidepressants,” notes marine biologist Alex Ford from the university’s Institute of Marine Biology who coauthored the study. “Antidepressant and antianxiety medications are found everywhere, in sewage, surface water, ground water, drinking water, soil, and accumulating in wildlife tissues.”
And the chemical contents of these medicinal mood-lifters are taking a toll on marine life, even in relatively concentrations. “Antidepressant and antianxiety medications are found everywhere, in sewage, surface water, ground water, drinking water, soil, and accumulating in wildlife tissues. They are found in sea water and rivers and their potential ability to disrupt the normal biological systems of aquatic organisms is extensive.” Ford explains.
“This isn’t about a one-off pollutant entering their habitat; wildlife are bathed in drugs for their entire lifecycle,” the researcher adds. “Laboratory studies are reporting changes such as how some creatures reproduce, grow, the rate at which it matures, metabolism, immunity, feeding habits, the way it moves, its colour and its behaviour.”
A previous study, published in 2014, reported that antidepressants are among the most common pharmaceuticals sloshing around in aquatic environments. Even low levels of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like such as fluoxetine (an ingredient in Prozac) were shown to alter the behavior of amphipod shrimp by making them more adventurous and causing them to leave their shelters more often whereby they became prone to becoming preys.
Practitioners who prescribe antidepressants, says the study’s other author, Dr. Helena Herrera, of Portsmouth’s School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, should “be aware of the problems.” They ought to weight the medical concerns of people suffering from depression with the persistence of antidepressant drugs in the environment.