Study highlights how climate change will impact drug use

Posted on 28th August 2013

Changing rates of disease – caused by climate change – are likely to lead to increases in the use of a diverse range of drugs, a new study has found.

Using the latest predictions from climate models, research led by Dr Clare Redshaw has reviewed how diseases across the world are likely to vary in the future, and shown how this will affect the drugs used in their treatment.

Mounting pharmaceutical use and a growing cocktail of drugs in soil and waterways have been linked to a number of environment and health problems, and may have a role to play in the growing issue of antibiotic resistance.

Considering a range of infectious and non-infectious diseases, including those associated with soil, water, food and transported by vectors such as mosquitos, the research team have shown that demand for pharmaceuticals already heavily used in the Northern Hemisphere is likely to increase as our climate evolves.

Increases in cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases such as asthma, and mental illness were all found to be linked to climate-related environmental change. Growth in the prevalence of these diseases will lead to an increase in so called ‘Western heavy use’ medications, namely those already being overused in the developed world.

Greater occurrences of respiratory, water-borne, food-borne and vector-borne infections are also likely to lead to large increases in antibiotic use.

Dr Redshaw and her colleagues were keen to highlight the current lack of understanding in how drug use is likely to change:

“Whilst the impact of climate change upon the global distribution of diseases has previously been considered, little attention has been given to the impact of these changes upon pharmaceutical use. Increases in not only the quantities but also the types of medication used raises the risk of environmental contamination – with potentially unexpected impacts upon already fragile ecosystems.”

The authors also warn that substantially higher pharmaceutical demand appears inevitable as new disease threats emerge, particularly for drugs such as antiprotozoals that are not currently in common use.

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.

Dr Clare Redshaw added:

“We’re only beginning to understand the true extent to which climate change will affect illness, and therefore pharmaceutical use. This research provides a platform on which discussions and planning can begin to protect future human, animal and environmental health.”

The study is published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, further details can be found here.

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