The cause and effect of drug use and environmental destruction

From destruction of the rain forests to prescription drugs that are leaking into the water table drugs are a health issue and an environmental danger.


WASHINGTON, January 7, 2015 – Substance abuse and the condition of our planet are certainly hot topics these days, and the two issues are connected in some surprising ways. The full extent of damage caused is not yet fully known, but experts have begun to study each issue and discovered substance dependency and environmental damage are perpetuated by each other and shouldn’t be ignored.

Drug use and environmental issues have dominated political, health and environment headlines and concerned many politicians and forward-thinking citizens.

Qualms about drug use have gotten even more prevalent since many states have legalized marijuana many others poised to follow suit, possibly lured by the van-load of tax revenue legal marijuana creates.

It is equally hard to go a day without being exposed to is some sort of report, article, book, or film that warns if we don’t work together to make improvements to the environment soon, our kids may have nothing more to look forward to than a planet that is so polluted it’s almost uninhabitable.

Devastating Deforestation

Environmentalists have warned about the need to save the rain forest for decades. However, over the past few years, deforestation problems have gotten significantly worse, partially because of the drug trade. Increasingly rare Mreah Prew Phnom trees (Cinnamomum parathenoxylon), found in rainforests are being destroyed to create MDMA, or ecstasy.

The demand for ecstasy, original created by Nazi’s as an appetite suppressant for their soldiers,  has also caused problems for forests in Cambodia and Brazil.  Sassafras oil is a key ingredient in the drug, but it comes from a tree that is endangered in Brazil.

Recently the U.S. government stepped in to confiscate over 30 tons of the crucial sassafras oil to try and stop the deforestation trend.

‘”The factories had been set up to distill ‘sassafras oil’; produced by boiling the roots and the trunk of the exceptionally rare Mreah Prew Phnom trees and exported to neighbouring countries,” such as Thailand, Vietnam, USA and China, reports Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the conservation group involved in the recent raids.

Drug cartels have now begun to encroach on rain forests. Trees are also sacrificed when areas are cleared to create places for drug traffickers to hide and set up bases of operation.

Illegal ranching and agricultural expansion also deforest large areas as law enforcement officials get bribed to ignore the practices, thereby making the farmers feel bold enough to continue.

Contaminants in the American Water Supply

Improperly discarded prescription medications are a growing threat to America’s water supply. In South Carolina, 128 million prescriptions are filled every year, and about 40 percent of them result in unneeded medicine being thrown away .

Water filters remove things like chlorine and lead from tap water, but they do not remove the prescription drugs that have dissolved after being discarded down the toilet or into landfills. Both of those disposal methods are potentially dangerous because they can cause the pharmaceuticals to enter into the water table. When that happens, problems like antibiotic resistance can result.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria already cause about 65,000 deaths per year, and that number could rise if proper medication disposal techniques are not followed. When it doubt, always follow the instructions on a medication’s label or consult your pharmacist.

Clearly, there’s a link between drug use and abuse and environmental destruction that many of us haven’t realized.

Furthermore, it’s clear that there are parallels here between small-scale environmental disruption and larger issues like wholesale climate change, worthy of a different article. For now, simply acknowledging the fragility of the natural world – and recognizing our very negative and obvious influence over it acerbated by the use, illegal and otherwise, of drugs – is a good first step.

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