Environmental Pharmacology ; When did you last spot a Vulture?


Note: Posted in support of 'Blog Action Day'


Today is the ‘Blog action day’ (October 15th). As promised in an earlier post I will write about a discipline which has evolved in recent years, the ‘environmental pharmacology’.

I am overwhelmed to note that, this year’s (2007) Nobel for Peace has been awarded to the IPCC. Its high time mankind acknowledges such a movement.

Man has triumphed over ailments by discovering medicines. Medicines have significantly improved the morbidity and mortality over the years. But in the process of curing the diseases of man, are we forgetting the impact of these medicines & chemicals on environment ?

This concept of studying the effects of medicines and toxins on ecosystem has led to a new discipline called ‘environmental pharmacology’ or ‘pharmacoenvironmentology’. The awareness on environmental pharmacology has been increased in recent days.

We don’t have many structured and designed studies on environmental pharmacology; nevertheless there are few alarming reports which give a glimpse of the harmful effects. Our ecosystem is a delicate arrangement, and any untoward intrusion can result in havoc. Over the years humans have continuously intruding and damaging the ecosystem and we are also finding the effects caused by these intrusions, time to time.

Medicines at a low to moderate level have been detected in water bodies in different countries. When I mention water bodies, they include the drinking water also. Without our knowledge, we may be consuming some of the medicines, albeit at a low level. At this level they may not be causing any harmful effects on us. But there are not enough studies to assess the effect on aquatic life.

A study done in Italy, published in Lancet (May 2000), observed

“Most drugs were measurable in drinking or river waters and sediments, suggesting that pharmaceutical products are widespread contaminants, with possible implications for human health and the environment.”

The Vulture’s death story




Another classic example is the ‘vulture’s death’ after eating on carcasses of animals fed with diclofenac sodium (NSAID, a pain killer) by vets. Because of the lack of proper detoxification pathway for diclofenac sodium (a pain killer, NSAID), it leads to visceral gout and renal failure in vultures when they feed on carcasses. There are serious concerns on the declining numbers of vultures, the natural scavengers. Now many species of vultures including the Asian white back vulture, the Indian vulture are considered endangered species.

First observed in 1997, among the Oriental white-backed vultures, Gyp, nesting in Keoladeo National Park in northwestern India. The breeding vulture numbers drastically reduced over the years from 150 in 1997 to 25, 20, 0 (Yes, Zero !!!). Fortunately India banned Diclofenac use in veterinary medicine following these reports.

Check this

“On five occasions a white-backed vulture was observed by Dr. Prakash* to be either sick or impaired over periods of about 32 days. Typically, they appeared to be drowsy; the neck would fall limp and hang. After appearing to wake up, the bird would raise its head, but then let it fall again. In each case the bird fell from the tree and died….

(excerpt from Robert W. Risebrough, report on Vultures death in India & Pakistan)

* Dr Vibhu Prakash , a scientist & expert from Bombay Natural History Society

Similarly the traces of narcotics like cocaine in river Thames and other aquatic bodies. Because of lack of studies on the effects of these medicines on aquatic organisms, there is no data available on suspected ecological imbalance of aquatic life.

These examples underscore the need to work towards restoring the ecological balance, which is threatened by our medicines and other chemicals. Our regulatory bodies, like FDA are currently looking at the harmful effects of our medicines on human life. Now who will regulate the harmful effects on ecosystem??? Should FDA take up the responsibility !!!!???


Update: An informative article by Dr Syed Ziaur Rahman et al in 'Environmental Health' where he proposes Pharmacoenvironmentology, as a component of the Pharmacovigilance process.



Seeji, Pharm House


10 comments:

  1. Natasha says

    Actually Diclofenac has been banned now in India, in response to this particular problem. Hopefully numbers will now recover. But what havoc the genetic bottleneck will wreak, we'll have to wait and see


    Seeji says

    @ Natasha

    Welcome to 'Pharm House'.

    Diclofenac is banned only for use in cattle (vet use). Instead the vets are asked to use the alternative NSAID Meloxicam, which has found to be safe in vultures.

    Diclofenac use in humnas continues. Diclofenac (Voveran) is one of the highest selling medicine in India. This wont matter because of the safe burial practice in most of India except a small fraction of Parsis, who go for sky burial in the 'tower of silence'.

    When the vulture population came down drastically, it was Parsis who were seriously troubled and pushed environmentalists and Govt to address the issue.

    Your concerns about the havoc occured at genetic bottleneck are genuine and should be observed cautiously.


    Anonymous says

    I work for Cox Enterprises and saw that you participated in Blog Action Day. I thought you might be interested in visiting www.CoxConserves.com. The site details Cox’s commitment to the environment and offers tips on how anyone can become eco-friendly.

    Best,
    Elizabeth


    Dr. Syed Ziaur Rahman says

    Also please refer the original paper related to Environmental Pharmacology.

    Pharmacoenvironmentology – a component of pharmacovigilance
    Syed Ziaur Rahman, Rahat Ali Khan, Varun Gupta, Misbah Uddin
    Environmental Health 2007, 6:20 (24 July 2007)
    http://www.ehjournal.net/content/6/1/20


    Seeji says

    @ Dr. Syed
    ..
    Welcome to "Pharm House"

    Thank you very much for the link of your article. It was a nice read. Your article informed me about many more examples which I was unaware.

    It seems like you have done lot of work in this field.

    Do we have any organization or regulatory body to look into this area of pharmacovigilence?


    Seeji says

    @ Elizabeth
    ..

    Welcome to Pharm House

    We visited your site. We appreciate your works towards eco balance.


    Dr. Syed Ziaur Rahman says

    Dear Seeji

    Thanks for your kind response on my posting. Pharmacovigilance in India is now looked after by National Pharmacovigilance Programme (NPP) which is a nationwide activity sponsored and
    coordinated by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, New Delhi. It for basically for the purpose of establishment and management of a database of adverse drug reactions occurring in the country. The program in addition may help to create awareness about the adverse drug
    reactions and to undertake necessary and timely steps in ensuring a safer use of medicines among health professionals in India. Any health related
    professional may report suspected adverse drug reactions to these centre.
    The details of all these centres are available at the website of CDSCO
    http://cdsco.nic.in

    Regards,
    Syed Ziaur Rahman


    Dr. Syed Ziaur Rahman says

    Dear Seeji

    Thanks for your kind response on my posting. Pharmacovigilance in India is now looked after by National Pharmacovigilance Programme (NPP) which is a nationwide activity sponsored and
    coordinated by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, New Delhi. It for basically for the purpose of establishment and management of a database of adverse drug reactions occurring in the country. The program in addition may help to create awareness about the adverse drug
    reactions and to undertake necessary and timely steps in ensuring a safer use of medicines among health professionals in India. Any health related
    professional may report suspected adverse drug reactions to these centre.
    The details of all these centres are available at the website of CDSCO
    http://cdsco.nic.in

    Regards,
    Syed Ziaur Rahman


    Seeji says

    @ Dr Syed

    Thank you very much for the information.

    Sir, I wanted to know if the Pharmacoenvironmentology has been incorporated in the National Pharmacovigelence Programme ?? Or is it just a new discipline which has not yet caught the eyes of regulation??


    Dr. Syed Ziaur Rahman says

    Those who are interested in knowing the details of the subject on environmental pharmacology may refer the following book edited by us.

    An introduction to Environmental Pharmacology. Eds SZ Rahman ,M Shahid and V Gupta. 2008. (ISBN 978-81-906070-4-9). Rs. 650 (Indian Edition) $ 70 (Foreign Edition)