Are HAPPY PILLS Destroying Our Wildlife? Starlings Dying. Otters with Liver Damage. Cuttlefish Driven Crazy. How Anti-Depressants Leaching into Water Supplies Are Wreaking Havoc

Daily Mail (London), October 27, 2014 | Go to article overview

Are HAPPY PILLS Destroying Our Wildlife? Starlings Dying. Otters with Liver Damage. Cuttlefish Driven Crazy. How Anti-Depressants Leaching into Water Supplies Are Wreaking Havoc


Byline: John Naish

THEY are reckless, feckless, sexually useless and easy meat for predators. They are even at risk of liver damage.

No, not a new generation of drink and drug-addled youths. This is the wildlife of Britain, creatures whose brains and bodies are being sent haywire by the torrents of antidepressants, contraceptive pills and painkillers that we flush with our urine into the waterways every year.

The victims include starlings, otters, cuttlefish and crayfish. But scientists fear these animals represent only a few of the UK species being threatened by our pill-popping habits.

This week, a BBC documentary will highlight the plight of our starling population. Its investigators' experiments indicate that the birds are dramatically losing interest in food and sex after being exposed to Prozac in the food chain.

Long-term monitoring by the British Trust For Ornithology shows starling numbers have fallen by two-thirds in Britain since the early Eighties. The RSPB says the starling is now listed as a 'bird of high conservation concern'.

While the charity admits the cause of the decline in the UK is not clear, Dr Kathryn Arnold, an ecologist from the University of York, who has been studying the effects of our Prozac habit on starlings, suggests the anti-depressant could be partly to blame.

She says the birds are ingesting fluoxetine -- the drug's active ingredient -- by eating earthworms that thrive at sewage works. The level of fluoxetine in these worms is tiny, around four per cent of the equivalent average dose given to humans. But research shows even this minute dose can have a profound effect on the starlings' brains.

Dr Arnold fed worms containing the same concentration of the drug to 24 captive starlings and monitored their behaviour over six months. The experiment, on BBC2's Autumnwatch, which is broadcast over four days this week, found that the birds suffered side-effects similar to those experienced by humans taking Prozac.

'The major finding was loss of appetite,' she says. 'Compared with the control birds who hadn't had any Prozac, they ate much less and snacked throughby out the day. The problem then is that they're less likely to survive long, dark winter's nights.' The birds' libido also plummeted. 'Females who'd been on it were not interested in the male birds we introduced them to,' says Dr Arnold. There was no evidence, however, that the birds became any happier or less anxious on the drug.

'The effects we've measured so far are quite subtle,' she says. 'But they could have a negative impact on wildlife. We need to find out. Their exposure to antidepressants is only going to get worse, so we need to get a handle on it.' MORE than 50 million prescriptions for antidepressants are issued in the UK every year, with as many as one in six people taking them.

The actual concentrations of these drugs in our waters is minuscule -- as low as one part per million parts of water. But scientists are finding that even these tiny amounts can cause perilous alterations in wild creatures' behaviour.

While exposure to Prozactype antidepressants failed to make starlings appear less anxious, the drugs do have this effect on creatures such as crayfish -- which become dangerously bold. Tests on a group of males showed they become much more aggressive, engage in long, injurious fights and kill large numbers of females.

Cuttlefish, too, become confused by our 'happy pills'. In April, the journal Aquatic Toxicology reported how, in one experiment, a shrimp was placed in a test-tube lowered into a tank with cuttlefish.

Cuttlefish not exposed to the drugs soon give up on the unobtainable treat.

But those exposed to the anti-depressant in their water continuously slammed into the tube, wasting energy and endangering themselves. Most anti-depressants are believed to work by boosting levels of the 'feel-good' chemical serotonin in the brain. …

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