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Clinical and Research News
Prozac's in the Water
Psychiatric News
Volume 39 Number 17 page 44-44

The United Kingdom's Environment Agency, the equivalent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, announced last month that the SSRI fluoxetine (Prozac) was being taken in such large amounts that it was showing up in Britain's drinking water. The finding was first reported in Britain's the Observer newspaper.

Britain's Drinking Water Inspectorate noted that the drug "was likely to be found in a considerably watered down form that is unlikely to pose any health risk." Nevertheless, environmentalists are calling on the government to order an urgent investigation and labeling the slow buildup of the excreted antidepressant into the water a "hidden mass medication."

An environmental spokesperson for the Liberal Democrat political party in Britain, Norman Baker, told the Observer, "these revelations expose a failing by the government on an important public health issue. It is alarming that there is no monitoring of levels of Prozac and other pharmacy residues in our drinking water."

Other critics of antidepressant medication noted that the new finding is just the latest evidence that general practitioners in Britain are overprescribing fluoxetine, the British National Health Service's antidepressant of choice. In the decade ending in 2001, prescriptions for fluoxetine rose from 9 million to 24 million per year.

Environmental experts noted the drug finds its way into rivers and water systems from treated sewage water. Treatment systems were never designed to eliminate pharmaceutical residues in drinking water, and it is likely, they added, that other drugs are present as well.

"It is extremely unlikely that there is a risk," countered a spokesman for the Drinking Water Inspectorate. "Advanced treatment processes installed for pesticide removal are effective in removing drug residues as well." ▪

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