The Effects of Drug Production on the Environment

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Last Updated on May 11, 2021 by Content

Effects of drugs have been widespread weather Legal and illegal drug manufacture, and disposal may have a detrimental effect on the environment, often ignored due to society’s focus on how drugs kill people. The impact of drugs on the world extends the reach of America’s drug epidemic. Drugs’ influence on soil, animals, plants, and microorganisms must be included in any fair evaluation of their effects on Americans.

The Pathway to Entry

Medication can reach the environment in various ways, with varying concentration levels. These pathways show the complexity and pervasiveness of the contamination issue.

The Following Are Some of The Most Common Ways that Drugs Contaminate the Environment:

  • During the manufacturing process, drug residue may infiltrate surface waters.
  • Drugs are metabolized by humans and then excreted in trace quantities into the sewage system. This pollution inevitably finds its way into the water supply after going through treatment systems.
  • Veterinary pharmaceuticals are excreted in soils and surface waters by pasture animals.
  • The drugs used in livestock can be distributed using manure as a fertilizer.
  • Unused drugs are often dumped into public water supplies through sinks, toilets, and landfills.
  • During the manufacturing process, direct pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere.

A change to existing policies can only be accomplished by identifying the areas where the environment is exposed to the pharmaceutical effects of drugs and then being determined whether or not changes need to be made. Consumer education on how to properly dispose of drugs, improved manufacturing practices at pharmaceutical firms, and national regulations regulating the process are essential components of a multifaceted approach at all levels of society effects of drugs.

The Green Pharmacy

Concerns about the environmental effects of drugs production contributed to federal legislation in this field as early as 1938, according to Yale Environment 360, a publication of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Green pharmacy is a campaign that aims to protect the environment and waterways from pharmaceutical industrial activities.

Green pharmacy refers to a dedication to developing the drug production process to leave the least amount of environmental effects. In the long run, such steps are beneficial and required.

The Following Are Some Details About how Drugs Affect the Environment:

  • Contaminants Can Travel a Long Distance According to researchers, more than 150 different human and veterinary drugs have been discovered in trace quantities in landscapes as far away as the Arctic. Many of the more than 4,000 prescription drugs used for human and animal health eventually end up in the environment. They can pollute directly from pharmaceutical plants, as well as humans and animals. These chemicals can affect the health and behavior of wildlife, including insects, fish, birds, and other animals, as they make their way into terrestrial and aquatic environments.
  • The Source of Water Is in Jeopardy Several drugs were found to be polluted in 80 per cent of American streams and about 25 per cent of US groundwater, according to the US Geological Survey. we are another source of pharmaceuticals in stream water. In essence, drugs taken internally are not completely metabolized in the body, and the remainder ends up in our wastewater as it leaves our homes and enters sewage-treatment plants. These drugs were found in streams miles downstream from wastewater treatment plants, which may seem surprising, but many plants do not routinely remove pharmaceuticals from water.
  • Manufacturing is Becoming More Common The pharmaceutical industry in the United States sold $773 billion in drugs worldwide in 2008, more than double the amount sold in 2000, and the industry is still rising.
  • Animals’ Reactions to Human Waste Medications can move through the body and waste facilities, polluting the atmosphere. Vultures in South Asia, for example, have been contaminated by the anti-arthritis painkillers that humans take.

The Top 10 Most Prescribed Medications

There’s a fair risk that these medications’ trace quantities will end up in the environment.

The Following Are the Top Ten Most Prescribed Drugs per Month, Based on Monthly Counts:

  • Synthroid 22.6M
  • Diovan 11.4M
  • Crestor 22.5M
  • Lantus Solostar 10.1M
  • Nexium 18.6M
  • Cymbalta 10M
  • Ventolin HFA 17.5M
  • Vyvanse 10M
  • Advair Diskus 15M
  • Lyrica users 9.6M

Source: WebMD

Green pharmacy issues show that the planet is a great recycler, which, sadly, exacerbates medication contamination. Not only do chemical byproducts of the production process end up in our drinking water and soil, but so do the medicines we ingest and then excrete. Other animals and plants all consume these medications, exacerbating the problem.

Furthermore, drug residues may affect microorganisms, posing a public health risk. The advent of antibiotic-resistant pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms) exemplifies this argument. According to scientific studies, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are most prevalent in antibiotics commonly used. The widespread use of antibacterial agents causes this adverse side effects of drugs, which hurts the body.

According to Yale Environment 360, drug manufacturers should make medicines that are readily biodegradable and have a lower environmental effect. According to them, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only allows drug manufacturers to conduct an environmental impact assessment when they expect to produce more than 40 tons of a particular drug. Just 20 drug manufacturers were expected to perform an environmental assessment in 2008 due to this provision. When a corporation desires to manufacture more than 40 tons of a specific drug, Just 20 drug manufacturers were expected to perform an environmental assessment under this regulation in 2008. Green drug processing is not impossible, but it will require time and commitment and the support of federal and state legislation that are pro-environment and, as a result, pro-public health.

The Water We Drink

Water pollution data has been gathered by the National Resources Defense Council (NDRC), a non-profit environmental protection organization. The Associated Press reported in 2008 that researchers surveyed the drinking water of 24 major metropolitan areas, serving 41 million residents, and discovered many pharmaceutical toxins, including antibiotics, anticonvulsants, and mood stabilizers, according to the NDRC. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) believes that further research is needed to assess pharmaceuticals’ danger in our drinking water supply.


Pfizer is one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms, and it is often referred to as the “Wall Street of the pharmaceutical industry.” Its name is so closely associated with prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Pfizer started with a single manufacturing plant in Brooklyn, New York, in 1849. Pfizer now has a presence in 180 countries, employs over 110,600 people worldwide, and produced over $65 billion in sales in 2011. Pfizer is perhaps one of the most prominent targets in any discussion about drug manufacturing’s potential for effects of drugs on the environment. As a result, it’s no wonder that Pfizer finances its studies into, among other things, the impact of production on the availability of drinking water.


According to Pfizer, consumer use is the leading source of pharmaceutical pollutants in water (which accounts for 90 per cent of all trace concentrations found). As previously mentioned, the body excretes small pharmaceuticals, which ultimately end up in the water supply. It is thousands of times lower than the recommended dosages needed to treat the effects of drugs in drinking water. According to Pfizer, there have been no records of trace quantities of manufactured drugs (prescription and over-the-counter) in the water system, harming the population.


Pfizer uses ibuprofen as an example to bring trace drug concentrations in drinking water into perspective. Ibuprofen is one of the most commonly found substances in drinking water (in trace amounts) worldwide. According to Pfizer, to ingest the equivalent of one 200 mg ibuprofen pill, a person will have to drink two litres of water per day for over 100,000 years. While there is no current evidence that drugs in our water supply are causing harm to our health, it would be a stretch to say there is no risk. It’s essential to keep an interest in this field of study alive and well-funded. In general, the more environment-friendly and stringent laws we enforce, the better the water supply effects of drugs.

Our Wildlife

Ecosystems are very fragile. The introduction of a drug, even in trace amounts, may have a detrimental effect on a species’ environment and reproductive success. For example, a report on the “feminization of male fish” discovered that drugs endanger fish’s survival chances. Women use oral contraception all over the world to prevent pregnancy. Tiny quantities of these medications make their way into the water supply (most commonly through the drainage system) and are ingested by fish. Studies show that birth control hormones cause them to reproduce at a lower rate in male fish. The risk is that fish species excessively exposed to these hormones become extinct over time.

According to a report from the University of York in the United Kingdom, low levels of antidepressant fluoxetine in the atmosphere caused starlings (songbirds) to eat less often at critical sunrise and sunset periods. Although starlings have been reported to ingest antidepressants in their natural habitat (by consuming worms that eat sewage and drink trace amounts of antidepressants), the study was performed in a regulated environment in which the starlings were fed fluoxetine. According to the researchers, other antidepressants and medications were discovered in the birds’ natural habitat. One consideration is that combining multiple drugs may be more dangerous to wildlife than using a single prescription.

According to another report, otters exposed to two common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs experienced severe liver damage. This discovery is just the iceberg’s tip regarding how human medicines are changing the ecosystem and influencing marine animals. The acute liver problems mentioned may be because otter livers have not developed to metabolize the drugs they are now exposed to.

These reports on drug toxicity in the ecosystem raise whether drug pollutants lead more to the extinction of different organisms than previously assumed. Wherever there is life, including the ocean, research is needed, despite the apparent difficulties of covering so much land and oceanic mass.

Plant Life

An analysis of the effects of widely used drugs on lettuce and radish plants showed that even at low levels of concentration in the atmosphere, these plants’ growth was harmed.

These drug pollutants, such as trace quantities of ibuprofen, enter the soil via various routes, including irrigation with wastewater and fertilization with sewage sludge effects of drugs. The researchers looked at specific changes in plants exposed to trace amounts of drugs, such as water content, root and shoot length, overall size, and the effect on photosynthesis. Each medication had a distinct impact on each plant form. For instance, ibuprofen had a significant effect on the early development of lettuce plants’ root. Ibuprofen, for example, had a substantial influence on the early growth of lettuce roots. The effect of these foods on humans who eat them was not included in the report.


Surprisingly, the Pfizer report found that trace levels of ibuprofen in drinking water had no harmful effects on humans, but the situation changes when plants are taken into account. The fact that ibuprofen traces have different effects on different types of organisms, such as animals in contrast to plants, means that it is difficult to determine the true effects of drugs on the environment. The lettuce and radish research studies’ directors explicitly stated that further research is needed to evaluate the effect of drugs on the environment. Researchers studying the drug effects on plants and animals need to assess the effects of drugs on flora and fauna more rigorously, according to the lettuce and radish research study directors.

Cocaine Fuels Deforestation

Latin America bears the brunt of the world’s 19 million cocaine users’ economic footprintColombia had the potential to produce 1,120 tons of pure cocaine in 2018, according to the United Nations, which would be a record crop for the South American country.

Since 2001, more than 300,000 hectares (roughly 741,000,000 acres) of forest have been cleared for coca cultivation. “We can see the same peak of coca that we were watching 20 years ago,” Paulo Sandoval, a geographer at the University of Oregon, told DW, after a brief decline.

According to Sandoval’s latest satellite data, about 50,000 hectares of coca are currently being cultivated in Colombia’s Amazon region, with around half of that being in nature reserves with a diverse range of species. However, it is worth noting that these plantations only account for about 20% of the total cultivated area that is affected by the effects of drugs. Colombia’s government has focused on an eradication policy to combat coca cultivation. Plantations were sprayed with the highly concentrated herbicide glyphosate as part of the campaign. Many cocoa plantations were destroyed due to this process, but it also affected nearby forests and farmland.


According to Elizabeth Tellman, a geographer at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York, this method damages rather than benefits the climate. The cartels clear more forests and plant new coca crops once the fields are cleared. In an interview with DW, she said, “We do know that it [the destruction of cultivated areas] has not only had no impact (…) it’s been very counterproductive.”


Coca leaves are grown in the forest and are also transformed into cocaine in underground laboratories. Ammonia, acetone, and hydrochloric acid are among the highly toxic chemicals used in this process. According to scientists, several million litres of these compounds are expected to end up in soils and rivers per year as effects of drugs. According to a 2015 EU survey, few aquatic plants or animals live in those polluted waters.

Marijuana

California is the largest marijuana producer in the United States, but for many years it has been struggling with a water supply and sanitation. In 2012, it was reported that marijuana cultivation in California used at least 3,177,241,050 gallons of water. As a result, marijuana cultivation can have severe consequences at the watershed level, prompting several organizations to advocate for tighter restrictions as marijuana becomes more widely used.

Marijuana cultivation often necessitates a significant amount of energy due to environmental conditions regulation. 

High levels of greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption occur due to this. “In 2015, a 5,000-square-foot indoor facility in Boulder County consumed 41,808 kilowatt-hours per month on average, while the average household in the county consumed around 630 kilowatt-hours.” As a result of such high energy consumption levels, increased greenhouse gas emissions are created. In 2016, it was estimated that one kilogram of marijuana released 4,600 kilograms of carbon dioxide on average. In a single year, marijuana production releases 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the United States.

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine, also known as meth, is a synthetic drug manufactured at home.

Toxic waste dumping is a big problem associated with meth manufacturing. According to estimates, five pounds of hazardous waste are produced for every pound of meth produced. There has been a considerable amount of research done on the effects of legal drugs on the landscape. However, illegal drugs are still a threat in this regard, and even more so since they are not regulated. For example, chemicals used to produce cocaine and heroin from coca leaves are dangerous effects of drugs. Thousands of litres and tons of chemicals are released into the atmosphere each year after illicit substances are manufactured or seized and destroyed by law enforcement.

Producers have also used modified trucks or vans with pumps and hoses to drain waste onto the road as the vehicle is moving. This reduces their chances of being discovered while also spreading toxic waste’s impact.

Meth manufacturing also contains various poisonous gases that are harmful to the human respiratory system and have disastrous consequences for the environment. During the manufacture of meth, high amounts of phosphine gas can be produced, causing headaches, convulsions, and death. Meth manufacturing also has hydrogen chloride gas, which can destroy metal structures and buildings when released into the atmosphere.

Hydrogen chloride is also very soluble, and it quickly dissolves in water bodies, posing a hazard to marine life. Ethanol has high solubility. Thus it can easily be washed out by rain in the atmosphere, results in acid rain leading to severe consequences for the environment if the level is high.

The Impact of Illicit Drug Manufacturing

There has been a considerable amount of research done on the effects of legal drugs on the landscape. However, illegal drugs are still a threat in this regard, and even more so since they are not regulated. For example, chemicals used to produce cocaine and heroin from coca leaves are dangerous effects of drugs. Thousands of liters and tons of chemicals are released into the atmosphere each year after illicit substances are manufactured or seized and destroyed by law enforcement.

Although the time is right to study in this field, studies are slow. According to one report, chemical waste used in the manufacture of illicit drugs was diluted during high rainfall in Bolivia’s Chapare region in 1992. This resulted in some soil and microorganism degradation but no real damage to fauna or flora. In terms of further studies, one issue is that illicit drug manufacturing occurs in many third-world countries that lack sufficient research funding to perform a thorough investigation. Furthermore, the underground existence of illegal drug production makes analysis difficult.

Illegal drug production has a global impact, according to surveys. In Colombia, for example, over one million hectares of forest have been destroyed for the cultivation of illegal crops. It is estimated that four hectares of rainforest are destroyed for every hectare of coca, most often through a simple slash-and-burn farming technique and by the effects of drugs. Deforestation contributes to soil degradation and other environmental issues. The cultivation of illicit crops and the numerous attempts to eradicate such vegetation can devastate the ecosystem. Using airplanes to inject chemicals that destroy plants is one way to eliminate crops; nevertheless, these chemicals have a high potential for polluting the air. Because of concerns regarding this activity, countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Thailand have banned chemicals from killing illicit drug crops.

In eradicating illicit crops, foreign policy must balance the need to minimize drug demand while preventing negative effects of drugs on the environment. Furthermore, each country must think globally when it comes to the climate. For example, the United States has explored mycoherbicides’ use to eliminate coca and opium poppy plants. Despite these concerns, technology has not been developed due to the environmental and health effects of drugs. The main takeaway is that while some methodologies may help regulate drug production, such activities do not exist in a vacuum; the United States and all countries must protect both the public and the environment.

Strategic Recommendations

While there may seem to be a lack of research in the crucial field of drug environmental effects, there is a growing and severe concern about designing more environmentally friendly drugs. Because we do not have enough information about the ecosystem’s effects, the consensus might suggest letting our guard down on the side effects of drugs. One technique is to produce medicines that are less toxic to the environment. It is evident that human drug excretion is a source of water pollution, and this reality may serve as a springboard for more innovative and healthier drug growth.


However, tinkering with a drug to make it more environmentally friendly will minimize its treatment effectiveness. One choice is to build a solution that enhances biodegradability after a medicine has been excreted. If the drug companies do not have to comply with any law through which they are forced to produce more environmentally friendly versions of their products, they will not do this unless they feel these is a method for increasing beneficial effects of drugs. At the moment, a lack of convincing evidence demonstrating that pharmaceuticals’ afterlife is risky protects these firms from having to adjust. While drug firms may not affect drastic change, the government and customers may.

Market Recommendations on Drug Disposal

The FDA is assisting customers in safely removing unnecessary medications from medicine cabinets. Here are a few pointers to consider:

  • Participate in any drug-recycling projects that are eligible. Details may be available from local pharmacies or police departments.
  • Do not dispose of drugs in the garbage. The best practice is to blend drugs (without crushing or altering them) with things like coffee grounds or cat litter, seal the bag, and throw it in the garbage.
  • Certain drugs can be flushed; the FDA has a list of approved medications.
  • If your home state has a rule that does not allow you to return household trash to the landfill, you may wish to consult the pharmacist for more information about this.

Source: FDA

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a number of measures can be taken so as to reduce the impact of drugs on the environment.

The Following Are Some of The NRDC’s Recommendations:

  • Make the FDA Approval Process More Rigorous The FDA has the authority to amend its rules to include environmental reviews in more cases before medications are licensed for distribution.
  • Improve Manufacturing Processes Less drug contamination would spill into the atmosphere if technologies and procedures to minimize waste were implemented.
  • Reducing the Number of Prescriptions Is a Good Idea America is, without a doubt, the most medicated nation on the planet. One way to minimize pollution is for Americans to learn to rely less on prescription and over-the-counter drugs and instead turn to more holistic approaches to treating illnesses.
  • Dispose of Narcotics More Reliably Some neighborhoods have drug take-back services as an alternative to flushing pills or tossing drugs in the garbage, and this model, combined with education, can be used on a national scale.

These precautions will help protect the environment and those we share from drug contaminants. Present drug research on the ground cannot prepare for the potential effects of drugs. Such medicines will likely be created to elude the evaluation process and harm the future. As a result, corrective steps and a tightening of FDA regulations are required. Every case is peculiar, and the combinations of programs, treatment, and medication. Contact us via 615-490-9376 today to learn more about the effects of drugs.