Many of the world’s leading drug manufacturers may be leaking antibiotics from their factories into the environment, according to a report from the not-for-profit drug industry watchdog, Access to Medicine Foundation. This risks creating even more superbugs.
None of the 18 companies polled would reveal the extent of their antibiotic discharge. Only eight said they set limits on how much could be released in wastewater, with only one disclosing the name of its suppliers. According to the non-government organisation, Changing Markets, which has campaigned on the issue of pharmaceutical waste, “From our own research in India and China, where most of the world’s generic drugs are made, we know this is an ongoing problem and that very little progress is happening on the ground.”
Antibiotic waste from pharmaceutical manufacturing is a neglected driver of antimicrobial resistance — or AMR — according to a global report published in 2016 by Britain's ex-finance minister Lord Jim O’Neill. Residues of antibiotics in the environment expose bacteria to levels of the drugs that fuel the emergence of resistance; the 'superbugs' that form as a result can spread all over the world.
AMR has been described as one of the greatest health problems facing the world. Without effective antibiotics, infections become more difficult to treat and common medical procedures such as joint replacements, C-sections and chemotherapy — which rely on drugs to kill infection — could become too risky to carry out.
In 2017, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported on a study that revealed “excessively high” levels of antimicrobial drugs — as well as superbugs — in wastewater from a major drug production hub in the Indian city of Hyderabad. The quantities found were strong enough to treat patients, scientists said. This followed an earlier report of resistant bacteria in the wastewater of a factory there which supplies the NHS with antibiotics.