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Even fish are getting drugs like Prozac

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Drugs are making their way into the waters around Montreal, and now even fish are getting drugs like Prozac.

The findings that antidepressants are in the waterways surrounding a major city might seem minor, but the scientists say if it's happening in Montreal, it's likely happening in most major cities - and that could mean trouble for humans and wildlife and the fish they eat.

So far, the fish aren't showing signs of toxicity and according to Dr. Sébastien Sauvé at the University of Montreal's Department of Chemistry, "The amount of anti-depressants being released into our river works out to roughly the equivalent of a grain of salt in an Olympic-size swimming pool", posing no immediate danger to humans.

What the study did show is that drugs like Prozac are accumulating in the tissue of the fish and affecting brain activity, the consequences of which are unclear.

According to background information from the study, one in four people in Montreal take an antidepressant of some sort. Antidepressant use in the U.S spiked from 3.2 million to 27 million according to a report published August, 2009 in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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The researchers say antidepressants in the water could have international consequences because - in essence - somebody always lives downstream. The Saint Lawrence is a major international waterway, connecting to the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.

Sauvé says, "Montreal has a very basic sewage system – the city basically only removes solids, there's no disinfecting of the water," he explained. "In any case, the chemical structure of anti-depressants makes them extremely difficult to remove from sewage, even with the most sophisticated systems available."

Though the consequences of drugs like Prozac finding their way into the eocsystem isn't known, the scientis say they do know antidepressants negatively affect humans - and they don't know yet is how the drugs affect fish, acutely or chronically.

In order to track the effect of the drugs, the researchers propose tracking the "happy hormone", serotonin, in the fish brains. "In this way, the suggested biomarker involved in the serotonin regulation in the brain may represent a promising means of determining subtle biological effects to fish," explained André Lajeunesse, a PhD candidate, and member of the research team.

Regardless of whether drugs like Prozac are hurting the fish directly, the scientists say they're harming the ecosystem. Montreal's sewage treatment is the third largest in the world. Increased use of antidepressants like Prozac in the general population is now being shared with fish.

University of Montreal