Gilling Me Softly

By Bill Maher

New research reported in the journal Science concludes that fish are starting to experience the effects of our psychiatric pharmaceuticals. Our anxiety and mood medications get into the water when we throw pills down the toilet or when users pee and the trace amounts end up in our rivers, causing the fish to behave differently. That's when you know we rely way too heavily on mood-altering medications: when even fish are having problems with drugs in their schools.

The study, conducted in Sweden, subjected perch to the same amounts of pharmaceuticals as they are exposed to in the wild and found that the perch became uninhibited, were more likely to swim away from their schools and consumed way more zooplankton. And I think we can all agree there's nothing more obnoxious than a brazen perch with the munchies. 

This created two new variables: a decrease in the zooplankton population, which could, in the long run, increase algae in the water, and the perch making themselves more vulnerable to predators. That may not seem like a big deal but changes like this in the ecosystem can create a domino effect of consequences that could ultimately alter nature's delicate balance and spell disaster for our food supply. As the study's coauthor, Micael Jonsson of Umeå University in Sweden, points out, "Fish are very important. If they change behavior, it might have cascading effects both up and down in the food web."

Now, I love capitalism as much as the next guy but how long can we apply this "What's good for General Motors is good for America" attitude across the board to all industries in the name of profit? If all our businesses are welcome to destroy the atmosphere with carbon emissions in order to satisfy the almighty stockholder and the pharmaceutical industry can produce and distribute products that pollute our wastewater and disrupt the ecosystem, aren't we arrogantly trading short-term gain for long-term pain?

Government could require the pharmaceutical industry to make drugs that break down more efficiently upon disposal and it could spend on wastewater treatment and unused drug collection programs. If you're a right wing moralist who opposes the morning after pill because it chemically alters God's natural order of things, shouldn't you be just as adamantly calling for new environmental regulations to prevent pharmaceutical contamination of God’s oceans and waterways?