Is pharmaceutical waste triggering antibiotic resistance?

Posted Jun 14, 2015 by Tim Sandle
Several pharmaceutical companies have been accused by a campaign organization of contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistance among types of pathogenic bacteria, the so-termed "super bugs."
File photo: Drugs are packed at pharmaceutical company Takeda  in Oranienburg  Germany  on April 1  ...
File photo: Drugs are packed at pharmaceutical company Takeda, in Oranienburg, Germany, on April 1, 2014
Bernd Settnik, DPA/AFP/File
The charge comes from the group The activist group is of the view that the copious amounts of waste produced from some pharmaceutical companies, which enter rivers and streams through discarded waste water, contain trace amounts of antibiotics (or, more accurately these days, ‘antimicrobials’) and that these are contributing to resistance.
The campaign tallies with a Digital Journal feature in June 2015, about the risks of untreated wastewater. This was flagged by
Professor Olya Keen, of UNC Charlotte. The scientist observed that a variety of different antibiotics were regularly recovered from wastewater and that these are not always removed through the water treatment process. One source was consumers flushing things down the toilet; another source cited was pharmaceutical companies.
As part of an investigation into the practices of pharmaceutical companies, has undertaken a study. The report indicates that the company Pfizer is an offender in China. The dossier goes on to detail three Chinese companies, who supply active ingredients to pharmaceutical companies, including the generic drug manufacturer McKesson (owner of Lloyds Pharmacy, Celesio and OCP). These companies have been identified as adding quantities of antimicrobials into water systems. Also implicated is the drug manufacturer Teva.
The risk with this practice is that over-exposure to antimicrobials leads to some bacteria acquiring resistance. Should sufficient numbers of the mutated bacteria enter the community, they could trigger an infection and that infection may not be treatable with an antibiotic or other antimicrobial. The biggest risk group are those in hospital.
According to the campaign body, the findings infer a lack of regulation or an avoidance of regulation: “uncover a complex and murky web of commercial relationships between Chinese producers, Indian middlemen, and trusted global brands, is based on customs data, import licenses, databases and company financial and legal documents, reports from regulatory bodies in several countries and first-hand evidence obtained from an undercover investigation in China.”
As a way forwards, SumOfUs are calling on global pharmaceutical companies to instigate improved transparency throughout the supply chains and to stop purchasing the raw materials used to make antibiotics, from polluting factories.