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Flushed Drugs Getting Fish High


Fish on DrugsImagine fish, aggressively swimming, and hyper, anti-social-even getting the munchies. It sounds comical, almost made up; unfortunately, it’s not. This is the all too real effect of pharmaceutical waste that ends up in the water, effectively getting fish high and removing the natural balance of wildlife society in the same way that drugs remove the natural balance of human society. These drugs, particularly an anti-anxiety medication called Oxazepam, gets into the water multiple ways but ultimately has a devastating effect on both the habitual and social environments on fish; many of which are eerily similar to the consequences that humans face.

Okay, so fish are getting high. I guess the fish societies are going to want to know where on Earth they’re getting the drugs from, and the answers are pretty much from our toilets, as well as from runoff from pharmaceutical companies. Oxazepam is a commonly prescribed anxiolytic drug, but it is excreted pretty much intact. As a recovering drug addict, I am all too familiar with flushing drugs in order to avoid parents, friends, or police finding my stash. Friends and family are also no strangers to trying to get rid of their loved ones drugs, and the toilet often seems to be the most permanent and effective means of disposal. As for the pharmaceutical companies, many of them are located on or near water. So what’s the problem? Well, many of these drugs aren’t water soluble, so when they end up in rivers or streams, they are as intact as they were when they were prescribed to relieve anxiety or to quiet withdrawals. Fish take in oxygen through their gills, and their bodies are in relative equilibrium to the amount of dissolved drugs in the water of their habitat. What happens, then, when fish are surrounded by an environment with a significantly higher amount of medication than they are normally exposed to?

A 7 day study from Umea University in Sweden indicates that even short term drug exposure poses serious risks for the marine habitat. After exposing a population of fish to concentrations of Oxazepam similar to those reported worldwide, the study concluded that the drug exposed fish were more active, fed more often, hid less, and participated less in the school habitat than their non exposed counterparts. While eating these fish will not impact a person’s health, the biology of wildlife could be seriously jeopardized by this exposure. Scientists predict that long term exposure could affect fish’s ability to catch food, their ability to avoid being eaten, and their mating behavior, ultimately affecting their entire environment. While the parallels aren’t exact, many of the devastating effects to both the individual fish and the entire population at large are strangely similar to those of a society ravaged by drug use.

Anti-social behaviors, excessive hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness, and munchies-sounds like the typical high person to me. As the studies recently discovered, it is the same for fish; unsurprisingly, as fish and humans have the same drug receptors in their brains. These alterations in behaviors are dangerous in any society, because it removes the “natural balance”. Whether it is in the typical predator-prey relationship seen in fish and other wildlife habitats or the virtual predator-prey of human society, by altering safety instincts, individuals are taking away from their safety. For fish, this often means getting eaten because they don’t participate in schooling behaviors or hiding from predatory animals. For people, this manifests as doing crazy things, which are often illegal, and landing themselves in a situation over their heads; such as jail, or a relationship they can’t get out of. The similarity between fish and humans, and the consequences of their actions due to a chemical is almost stunningly simple.

Back in the day, animals getting high sounded funny. With a study proving how the chemicals in water could be a worldwide marine habitat problem, it becomes a lot less funny. Even less amusing is the comparison between people and fish when they act based on the chemical interactions in their brains. Flush those drugs? I’d think twice.



Works Cited

Donn, Jeff. Study: FIsh in drug-tainted water suffer reaction. 14 February 2013. http://www.myfoxphoenix.com/story/21198742. 14 February 2013.

Study: Fish have bad reaction to anti-anxiety drug. 14 February 2013. http://www.kfdm.com/template/inews_wire/. 2013 February 2013.

Viegas, Jennifer. Are Fish Getting High From Drug Waste? 14 February 2013. 14 February 2013.

Image via Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons


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Filed under: Uncategorized · Tags: Aggressiveness, Anti-anxiety medication, behavior, Brain Chemical balance, drug addiction, Drug receptors, Fish, Flushed drugs, high, Hyperactivity, Marine habitat, Munchies, Oxazepam, Pharmaceuticals, Wildlife