Understanding the impacts of climate change on pharmaceutical usage

This review explores the likely consequences of climate change upon the use of medical pharmaceuticals in the Northern Hemisphere.

As climate change alters environmental conditions, the prevalence and global distribution of human diseases are changing.

This study has found that climate-related environmental changes are associated with a rise in the incidence of chronic diseases already prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere, such as cardiovascular disease and mental illness. Increases in these diseases are leading to greater use of already heavily used Western medications.

Sufferers of respiratory diseases may experience aggravated symptoms due to altered environmental conditions, such as increases in pollen counts, leading to a higher demand for medication used to control these symptoms.

Respiratory, water-borne, and food-borne toxicants and infections, including those that are vector borne, may become more common in Western countries, central and eastern Asia, and across North America.

As new disease threats emerge, substantially higher pharmaceutical use appears inevitable, especially of pharmaceuticals not commonly employed at present (antiprotozoals for example). This research has found that the use of medications for the treatment of general symptoms, such as analgesics, is also likely to rise.

Having an understanding of which diseases and therefore which drugs may be used in the future, is essential to allow toxicologists, environmental scientists, policy makers and legislators to focus their efforts, put mitigation measures into place, and plan for training, education and treatment.

This study is published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health

Full citation

Clare H. Redshaw , Will M. Stahl-Timmins , Lora E. Fleming , Iain Davidson & Michael H. Depledge (2013) Potential Changes in Disease Patterns and Pharmaceutical Use in Response to Climate Change, Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B: Critical Reviews, 16:5, 285-320.