During the last three decades, the impact of chemical pollution has focused almost exclusively on the conventional “priority” pollutants (e.g. pesticides); however this is just one piece of the larger puzzle.6 The occurrence of pharmaceutical products in the environment has gained attention since the 1980s; however their occurrence has become more widely evident since the 1990s because of the continual improvement in chemical analysis methodologies.7 Not only are pharmaceuticals in the environment of special interest with respect to the original compounds introduced, but also because of the differences in their occurrence, their fate, and their effects on target organisms or on nontarget organisms in the environment.
Pharmaceuticals are intended to help cure disease and to make people feel better, but the consistent increase in potency and number of prescriptions used, driven by both drug development and our aging population, is creating a corresponding increase in the amount of pharmaceutical waste generated. These drugs that are improving health outcomes and quality of life, replacing surgery and other invasive treatments, and quickening recovery for patients who receive these treatments are making their way into our nation’s waters as pollutants.
With the population of the United States increasing at the rate of one person every 10 seconds and with the average individual filling over 10 prescriptions per year,8 pharmaceutical waste is a growing concern. Massachusetts only holds roughly 2%9 of the population, but per capita fills over 12 prescriptions per year. According to the
Kaiser Family Foundation's Prescription Drug Trends10 report, from 1993 to 2003, the number of prescriptions purchased nationwide increased 70 percent (from 2 billion to 3.4 billion), compared to a U.S. population growth of only 13 percent.