European Chemistry Congress: Panacea in the water?


Today’s programme is chock full of environmental chemistry, including a few sessions on pharmaceuticals in the environment. In the last few decades chemistry has given us more and better drugs, and we have not been shy about taking them. One graph of pharmaceutical consumption in France from 1970 to the present was hair-raisingly steep. All those drugs that aren’t broken down by our bodies are, well, let’s be scientific here, excreted and enter the waste-treatment stream. Some end up in rivers and lakes.

So it is good that chemists are busy inventing new tools to understand the scope of the problem and what it’s implications might be—beyond trout blissed out on Prozac or crustaceans with the caffeine shakes.

Outside the environmental session room, a poster by Mei-Fang Chou and colleagues from Tri Service General Hospital in Taipei, Taiwan, gives me pause. They’ve managed to tweak the non-speedy alertness enhancer and mood brightener modafinil (sold as Provigil) so that it also is an anti-inflamatory pain reliever. Holey moley—what a blockbuster that could be. A cure for pain, sleepiness and unhappiness in one drug. Look out fish.

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