Time to Limit Antibiotic Pollution

The use and misuse of antibiotics is a major driver behind the drug-resistance problem, but large environmental discharges of antibiotics from pharma manufacturing can also contribute. It’s time for companies to live up to their ethical responsibilities.

By Johan Bengtsson-Palme, doctoral student at the Department of Infectious Diseases, The Sahlgrenska Academy, and D. G. Joakim Larsson, Director of the Centre for Antibiotic Resistance Research (CARe) at the University of Gothenburg, and Professor in environmental pharmacology at the Department of Infectious Diseases, the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Over the last decade, antibiotic resistance has put increasing pressure on human healthcare and is estimated to account for 700,000 deaths every year (1). The use (and misuse) of antibiotics in both human medicine and agriculture is a well-known cause of resistance; a much-less discussed driver is the environmental discharge of pharmaceuticals (2). Both the development and spread of resistant bacteria in the environment can be promoted by antibiotic selection, and so release of antibiotics into the environment can accelerate the problem. Importantly, in contrast to the use of antibiotics, environmental discharges are not associated with any benefits – only risks.