Think you've finally got your prescriptions straight? Think again
Taking prescription drugs can feel like being on a hamster wheel. You start out with one, but it has a nasty side effect. So you take another to counteract that. But the new drug causes a different problem. So you end up with another, and another…till eventually you’re taking a whole handful of pills each day. Just keeping track of what you’re supposed to take and when can feel like a full-time job.
But eventually you settle into a routine. You know exactly what you’re taking, and when you’re supposed to take it. You know what needs to be taken with food and what doesn’t. You’ve got it all sorted out. Except…you’re probably taking drugs you don’t even know about.
You’re probably drinking prescription…water
Over 70% of Americans take at least one prescription per day. Many of us take more than one. And the more drugs we take the more find their way into the water supply. Forget hormone replacement therapy—there are probably reproductive hormones floating in your drinking water! Female hormones are one of the most common drugs in tap water.
Other drugs you’ll probably find include antidepressants and statins. High blood pressure meds. Epileptic drugs and antibiotics. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are also common. With each glass of water, you could be taking a dose of dozens or even hundreds of drugs, none of which have been prescribed for you. And some of them may have serious side effects.
This isn’t a new problem. The EPA has known since at least 2008 that most municipal water supplies are laced with prescription drugs. A 2008 study found water supplies across the country were contaminated. It found everything from sex hormones in San Francisco to carbamazepine, a mood-stabilizer, in New Jersey. Newer studies have found ever-larger quantities of drugs over an ever-wider area. How do they get there?
Several ways. Most drugs are only partially metabolized. That is, our bodies absorb some of the drug, but some of it passes through us untouched. It's filtered out through our kidneys or ends up in our digestive systems, and passes on out of our bodies and into the water supply when we use the bathroom.
We also flush our old prescriptions down the toilet, as we’ve been advised to do all our lives. But we’re not the biggest polluters. Hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical facilities also flush a lot of unused meds. Pharmaceutical companies often dump drugs and drug components too. These ultimately end up in the water. Even old drugs thrown in the trash eventually add to the problem as rainwater leaches through landfills and goes back into circulation.
Is there really a “safe level”?
According to the EPA, the drugs in our drinking water are totally safe. However, these supposedly "safe" levels have a hideous effect on animals exposed to them. As little as .1 parts per billion of some drugs causes freakish mutations in frogs. Like extra limbs. Or extra testicles. Or both male and female sex organs.
I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel totally safe.
The “safe level” idea doesn’t take many things into account. Like the fact that ingesting tiny doses of a drug on a routine basis adds up to a larger dose overall. Or that you may be getting doses of multiple different drugs with the same effect. The fact of the matter is that we have no idea what kind of effect these drugs may have long-term.
Dr. Jennifer Sass, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, sums it up. “People should not be reassured by the miniscule levels these drugs are being detected at," she says, "since they are absolutely within the range of levels where we know they are active in our bodies.” She adds that children, pregnant women, and those with heart conditions may be particularly vulnerable.
Your food is probably hooked on drugs too
The drug dealing doesn’t end with your water either. Big Agriculture has been dosing us with antibiotics and hormones for years through meat and dairy products. It’s speculated that agricultural antibiotics are one of the biggest contributors to the so-called superbugs, antibiotic resistant forms of bacteria which have become more common each year. Between 2001 and 2010, the FDA concluded that 18 different drugs commonly used in commercial animal production posed a “high risk” to human health due to the likelihood of this.
But of course they’re all still in use. Millions of pounds of antibiotics are fed to animals each year. And guess what? Not only do we find antibiotic residue in the meat we eat, a great deal of it also ends up in the water supply eventually.
And it gets better. Manure—which is full of antibiotic residue—is often used as fertilizer. It’s a common type of fertilizer even for organic crops. And crops fertilized with antibiotic-laden manure end up…you guessed it. Full of antibiotics themselves. On the antibiotic front, we’re getting a triple dose. When you add hormone-laden milk into the picture, it's pretty bleak. But you can take steps to protect yourself.
Just say no to drugs
You might think that drinking bottled water and eating free-range meat will eliminate the problem. Unfortunately, most bottled water is nothing more than bottled tap water. If you really want to be drug-free, a water filter is the only option. However, what medications you find in your water may vary according to your location.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an excellent resource for finding out just what you're drinking. They have a database of over 20 million records for water supplies across the country. You can search your location, see out what contaminants are in your water, and find out what kind of filter will work best in your situation.
And when it comes to food, nothing beats growing your own. If you can’t do that, buy local. Buy seasonal. Buy raw milk from hormone-free cows. In short, buy from farmers you know, whose growing practices you can question.
Big Pharma is slipping you enough drugs, without drinking them in your morning coffee.
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