A Quick Comment on the Impact of Opioids on the Environment

By Steve Dechan

In 2021, it is widely accepted that the Earth is facing an environmental emergency. Sea levels are rising, land and ocean temperature records are being broken, carbon dioxide levels are at an all-time high and people generally feel they have the causes figured out. However, one aspect of environmental degradation that has been widely overlooked, but is slowly emerging into public discourse, is that of opioid waste.

In its host countries, the opioid crisis in an ongoing social, political and economic issue. However, it is the environmental waste caused by the painkillers that is climbing the agenda of policy makers.

Opioid waste is created as the drugs enter people’s bodies and break down into metabolites that end up in wastewater. After testing, scientists have detected opioids downstream of wastewater treatment plants and are concerned about the possible effects on humans and organisms that live in water.

Currently, testing on the concentration of opioid waste in freshwater has only been conducted on a small scale in the US. The primary concern is for populated areas associated with the higher discharge of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in their wastewater. Studies in this field are just beginning and scientists are continuously looking to further improve opioid waste detection.

It is undeniable that the use of opioids may have serious environmental implications. As new technology-based solutions for the treatment of chronic pain hit the market, I am hopeful that standard of treatment for chronic pain will shift.