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Think Drugs Only Ruin Human Lives? Wrong!

We know drug use changes people. We know substance abuse affects all facets of society. What we don’t yet know is the total impact of our substance abuse on the environment. As research starts to roll in, the preliminary results aren’t looking so hot.

Consider the massive amount of drugs consumed in the US alone. These synthetic chemicals pass through wastewater treatment plants and end up in nature, throwing wildlife into chaos. The combination of natural disposal and illegal dumping results in a scary amount of drugs flowing into waterways, wreaking havoc on the plants and animals exposed.

Bold Fish and Bare Riverbeds

Two recent studies reveal concerning effects of this drug exposure on wildlife.

Thinking of drugs only ruin lives

  • When researchers examined streams in Baltimore, they discovered  numerous drugs in the waterways. Of particular concern was the high concentration of amphetamines. After further research, they discovered the production of biofilm (river slime that forms the basis of the food chain) is 85 percent lower in amphetamine-polluted water. The bacteria in the ecosystem also changed, and aquatic insects emerged earlier. Researchers label these results “concerning.”
  • Another study examined the effects of drugs on fish. Researchers in Sweden found that the anti-anxiety drug oxazepam is accumulating in multiple schools of river fish. The benzo is altering the behavior of once-shy perch, making them more bold and adventurous. While these characteristics might be helpful for humans taking the drug, it could have other effects on fish. Bold fish are more likely to be eaten by larger fish and more likely to explore new territories. These newly developed traits could snuff out species of fish and create ripple effects throughout the food chain.

The Call for Environmental Detox

In the past, our major environmental pollution concerns centered around immediate physiological impacts – oil spills, acid rain, unsafe drinking water. With the new drug contaminates we’re introducing to the system, it appears we need to expand our concerns. Researchers know they must change what they’re looking for,instead looking for behavioral changes in wildlife and potential alterations to the entire food chain.

Baltimore researcher, Emma Rosi-Marshall, noted, “As society continues to grapple with aging wastewater infrastructure and escalating pharmaceutical and illicit drug use, we need to consider collateral damages to our freshwater resources.” Sweden’s researchers explain that the solution “is not to stop medicating people who need drugs such as oxazepam but to improve sewage treatment plants to capture the drugs and reduce their contamination of water systems in the wild.”

So, what do you think? Does it concern you that drugs like meth and benzos are finding their way into our water systems? Do you think we’ll see aquatic species wiped out as a result? Share your thoughts (or your solutions) in the comments section below.

Additional Reading:   5 Socio-Cultural Factors that Cultivate Addiction




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