More Meds Are Making Their Way Into Freshwater

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When you’re thirsty, you’re probably not thirsting for some tasty antibiotics — but new research continues to confirm that these and other medicines are wreaking havoc in freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers all around the world.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, examines the potentially damaging effects of two medications — the antibiotic ciprofloxacin (Cipro), used to treat certain bacterial infections, and the anti-seizure drug carbamazepine (Tegretol), used to treat epilepsy and nerve pain. Accurate information about the environmental effects of improper pharmaceutical disposal worldwide is limited, but a new model makes predictions possible, even in areas where not much data is available.

According to this model, developed by environmental researchers from Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, levels of ciprofloxacin and carbamazepine in freshwater sources were 10 to 20 times higher in 2015 than in 1995. High levels of these drugs can have adverse effects on the ecosystem — by causing an imbalance in bacteria in the water, for example — and can affect the process by which drinking water is treated. In the case of ciprofloxacin, experts are also worried that high levels in the environment could be contributing to antibiotic resistance.

The new model predicts a high risk for environmental contamination in many areas of the world, including the United States, and especially in the Middle East — an area where there is little existing information about drug concentrations in freshwater sources. To do your part, learn more about how to dispose of old meds.