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Mood-Altering Drugs We Pee Out May Affect Ecosystem

(Robbie Cada/Wikimedia Commons)

(Robbie Cada/Wikimedia Commons)

If the image of wild European Perch strung out on anti-anxiety meds doesn’t make you want to run out and become a hardcore environmental activist — right now — nothing will.

Indeed, according to this new report out of Sweden, pharmaceutical drugs that “end up in the world’s waterways after being excreted, flushed and treated at wastewater treatment plants may lead to unexpected ecological impacts over time.”

Those “unexpected impacts” include fish whose behavior can be transformed by these drugs: in this case the perch grew more gluttonous, risk-taking, bold, aggressive and antisocial, researchers report.

Here’s more from the news release; the study is just out today in the journal Science:

Many drugs leave our bodies unaffected, and residues from them are therefore found in wastewater. Low concentrations of drugs are often found downstream from sewage treatment plants. Today we test how dangerous drugs are to humans, but our knowledge of the environmental impacts of drugs is limited. For the first time, scientists have now been able to show how the behavior of fish is affected by involuntary medication.

Researchers have examined how perch behave when they are exposed to the anxiety-moderating drug Oxazepam. The changes were obvious in drug concentrations corresponding to those found in waters in densely populated areas in Sweden.

“Normally, perch are shy and hunt in schools. This is a known strategy for survival and growth. But those who swim in Oxazepam became considerably bolder,” explains ecologist Tomas Brodin, lead author of the article. Continue reading