Today, we are all aware of how health care is advanced, and the average life expectancy of a person has increased. Thanks to the medical improvements, there are many types of cures for many diseases. We can find thousands of the kinds of drugs on the market, and all aim to cure another illness in the body. We can assume that the medication market has widened throughout the years with the increasing demand for medications. Some of the drugs are familiar ones found in the shelter without any prescription. However, other types of medications with more side effects but are often prescribed. They are called psychoactive drugs. Whenever we hear the word, we can name some of them or know someone who has been using these drugs in their daily lives. Apart from their common side effects, with further research on this topic, it has been found that these drugs have different hazards than only human health. Starting from the production process of these drugs, the consumption and waste management process of these drugs poses a threat to the environment with the chemical substances. Considering that 11% of US citizens over the age of 12 use antidepressants, there is a massive production of antidepressants and consumption.
Even though there are many psychoactive drugs on the market, the main environmental hazard has been recently found in the substance called Fluoxetine. According to the most recent studies, “Detectable levels of these drugs, and other commonly used medications, have been found in the UK's sewage, drinking water, rivers, coastal waters, and animal tissues, and pose a potential threat to natural habitats and ecosystems.” These substances are mostly related to water pollution, and it is not only limited to the production process, which we usually blame for pollution. However, the problem itself has not created only the fabrication, but the usage of these drugs can also cause the problem. Therefore, unlike any other environmental hazard, the approach of regulating the production itself wouldn't be enough. The increasing demand for these drugs is considered the main hazard to the environment. Controlling the demand for the drugs can be the main solution, unlike the other proposals that we have come up with regarding the limitation of production.
What are the Experts Saying?
Using different research and experts' ideas on the matter, I realized that this problem is often not researched for antidepressants. However, pharmaceutical pollution is a widely researched issue. This is mainly because some of the drugs used in psychiatric treatments have no other substitutes. Experts in the medical field think that using these drugs is a must if the patient is diagnosed with a certain psychiatric disorder. I had the chance to interview Prof. Dr. Elvan Özalp in her clinic, who has been a psychiatrist in the field for over two decades. Also, being an environment protector herself, she mentioned her concerns about the on-point usage of drugs prescribed and how to decrease the environmental damage we create.
She mentioned that she acts very carefully when she is prescribing certain types of medications in her practice. However, this is usually not the case in today's general psychiatric practice. Usually, the period assigned for a patient in a public health care center is nearly ten minutes. This is especially hard for the physician to diagnose the patient and give further information. Therefore, even though there are no specific data for overprescription of psychoactive drugs, she thinks that even though there is a prescription for these drugs, they are easy to reach, which causes exploitation of the drug. Also, after the COVID outbreak, the number of people who tried to reach a professional increased, resulting in more prescriptions.
On the other hand, she thinks that seeking professional help for mental health issues is often misunderstood. Depending on the diagnosis, a patient can be treated by therapy without using the medication. However, a common thought in society is that therapy is costly and time-consuming at the same time. Therefore, people often find psychoactive drugs as a quick fix where they go to the doctor’s office and find a solution instantly to their problem in just ten minutes, which is unrealistic. Özalp especially underlined the importance of raising therapists to reach the high demand for professional help. Many people are seeking, however, there aren't many therapists to cure each potential patient without medication. Also, she mentioned that every therapist has their approach to treating a patient, and there are many approaches. Since there is a shortage of both time patients and therapists, the dynamic psychotherapy approach is more suitable. Therefore, preventing an environmental hazard can be changed by changing how society looks at mental health illnesses and cures.