A Wee Problem with Antidepressants

Doctors are aware that all medications may have side effects. A glance through the MIMS, a bible for doctors listing drug information, will quickly demonstrate that. Antidepressants are no exception. A large proportion of the side effects listed are predictable, such as feeling drowsy or light-headed. There is one side effect that doctors don’t normally think about: the effect on effluent!


Let me explain:

Most medications when taken are metabolised, or broken down, by the liver. Then the kidneys excrete the breakdown products into the urine. Alternately, the breakdown products are excreted by the liver into the bile system, which then passes into the bowels, then to their inevitable end. Either way the breakdown products of drugs end up in our sewage system.


Some drugs are not metabolised at all, and are then excreted by the kidneys into our urine chemically intact. Fluoxetine is one such drug. It goes by various brand names, the most familiar being Prozac and Lovan. Every day our effluent contains Prozac and Lovan. The real danger is not in causing drowsiness and light-headedness in the city’s rats, or even curing them of depression. The danger is in the fact that the chemical structure of fluoxetine resembles certain antibiotics. Environment International reports that E coli, a common type of bacteria found in effluent, has been demonstrated in a recent study to mutate under the influence of the fluoxetine and becomes resistant to multiple antibiotics.


So fluoxetine is potentially breeding antibiotic-resistant superbugs in our city’s sewers. A rather disturbing thought don’t you think?


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