The European Commission (EC) released this month a strategy addressing the stages of pharmaceutical development, production and disposal, and how the process can be optimized. The EC outlined the environmental damage some pharmaceuticals cause, as residues of products may get into the environment during their production, use and disposal. These residues have been located in water bodies, both surface and ground, soils and animal tissues across the EU, with most of the residues being from painkillers, antimicrobials, antidepressants, contraceptives and antiparasitics. Some residues have also been found in drinking water.

As pharmaceuticals are effective in low concentrations so they can be processed and tolerated by the patient’s body, once in the environment, the drugs cause lasting damage. This is because  the low concentrations are still toxic or have other physiological effects and, in some cases, constant releases result in a steady concentration of chemicals being emitted into the natural surroundings.

Currently, over 3,000 APIs are on the market, with the number of human medicinal products rising dramatically since 1990 due to increases in product prices driving innovation as well as growing consumption. The EC projects that the pharmaceutical concentrations in the environment and, therefore, environmental damage will continue to increase as EU populations age.

As there is limited information and studies being conducted on the links between pharmaceuticals in the environment and the effects they have on human health, the EC is proposing a new strategy. The “Strategic Approach to Pharmaceuticals in the Environment” will help further investigate risks, accelerate innovation to address those risks, identify any knowledge gaps and find solutions for them, and ensure that the solutions to address risks do not negatively affect access to safe and effective pharmaceuticals.

Source: European Commission

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