The soaring use of antidepressants is turning our waters into a ‘drug soup’ and causing infertility, experts warn.
In the UK, people use more antidepressants than almost every other country in the Western world.
Dailymail.co.uk reports: But the drugs can cause havoc in the natural world after they pass out of the body of the person taking them in the form of urine and faeces and enter the water supply.
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Effects include the chemicals causing limpets to lose their ability to cling to rocks, as well as shrimp swimming towards areas populated by predators.
One in six adults – more than seven million people in England alone – take antidepressants.
In the US, this number almost as high as a proportion of the total population at just over one in seven.
A league table of anti-depressants published last year put the UK at fourth of the 29 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, up from seventh in the year 2000.
Professor Alex Ford, of Portsmouth’s Institute of Marine Biology, said: ‘Our aquatic life is bathing in a soup of antidepressants.
‘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.
‘This isn’t about a one-off pollutant entering their habitat; wildlife are bathed in drugs for their entire lifecycle.
‘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.’
Dr Helena Herrera, of Portsmouth’s School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, said many prescribers might not be aware antidepressant medication was potentially harmful for marine life, or that it persists in the environment.
She said doctors needed to take into account the problems and persistence of such drugs in the environment when prescribing them to someone.
Their research, published in British Journal of Psychiatry, suggests even one step towards addressing the environmental problem of such drugs would help.
Their suggestions include upgrading all of the UK’s waste water treatment plants to comply with EU regulations designed to bring synthetic oestrogens to an acceptable level.
Synthetic oestrogens end up in the water from people taking the contraceptive pill, but the measure could also help with the problem of antidepressants.
Patients should also be made aware they can return their waste medication to the pharmacy instead of flushing them down the loo – or throwing into the rubbish bin where, in landfill, later, it can leech into ground water.
They also claim the pharmaceutical industry should design drugs that break down safely in the environment.
In a previous study, Professor Ford found Prozac in waste water made shrimps leave their natural habitat and swim towards the light, making them much more likely to be eaten by predators.
In another study, Prozac in waste water was found to cause some aquatic creatures – including limpets – to lose their ability to stick to surfaces.
The researchers caution patients that medication should not be stopped without first seeking medical opinion.