The 20th century could definitely be called the Pharmaceutical Age; it was teeming with breakthroughs–vaccines, life-saving surgical procedures…Viagra! Advancement seemed to have no bounds. Heart disease? Take this. High blood pressure? Take that. Sniffle? Have an antibiotic. There’s a pill for every ill.

Then came the 21st century and pharmaceutical innovation leapt into new territory. Normal physiology acting up?–have a statin. How about an H2 blocker? Or tranquilizer? We do physiology better than the human body does. Yes, progress.

Then, of course, came performance enhancing drugs–steroids for athletes, steroids for cattle, Ritalin for medical students. Woohoo! Top of the world, Ma!

According to IMS Health, U.S. prescriptions have risen 12% to 3.7 billion over the last five years. 3.7 billion? With prescription drug use skyrocketing, is it any wonder that an AP investigation this week found a vast array of pharmaceutical drugs contaminating the drinking water of 24 major metropolitan areas? It isn’t to me. Check it out: 41 million Americans are drinking water laced with antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones, as well as a load of over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. And here’s the best part of it all: The drugs are remnants of non-metabolized pharmaceuticals passed through the urine of our over-medicated countrymen. Pretty gross, eh?

Now to be fair, the concentrations of said drugs are minuscule; however, many experts admit that we do not fully know the health implications of the widespread contamination yet. And to make matters worse, evidence shows that chlorine, a commonly added chemical used to treat water, can react with many pharmaceuticals making them more toxic.

Here’s what stands out the most for me regarding this frightening story. We have become a society so obsessed with quick fixes, especially pharmaceutical drug treatments that I can’t imagine any other scenario than this one happening. Duh! Medications aren’t fully absorbed by the body (thank goodness!) and so they’ve got to go somewhere. We’re taking pharmaceutical drugs by the boatloads–their concentrations in our water supply only reflect our consumption habits. That should speak loudly about what we’re doing to ourselves. Truth is, if you’re a medication junkie, this story probably doesn’t phase you–that would seem rather contradictory. But if you’re not, and you actually care about what goes into your body, then this story has got to creep you out a little; it sure did me.

Anyway, on the lighter side: The report did list some drug concentrations of various city water supplies, and I couldn’t help but see the comedy in it all. Check it out and chuckle:

  • New York, the city that never sleeps–tranquilizers
  • Philly, home of the cheesesteak–cholesterol drugs
  • L.A., where narcissism & cocaine share the spotlight–anti anxiety drugs
  • San Francisco, no explanation necessary–sex hormones

I guess our drinking water says a lot about our culture.

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