Published 2017-11-22

This post is also available in Swedish

Low-cost medicines a threat to the environment

Cheap medicines reduce the costs of Finnish pharmaceuticals by hundreds of millions of euros a year. The other side of the coin is environmental degradation and increased antibiotic resistance.

An article by Svenska Yle, the Swedish-language part of Yle, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, highlights Joakim Larsson, Professor of Environmental Pharmacology. The background is a study that he conducted under the research programme MistraPharma, where he followed the manufacturing chain for medicinal drugs to find out where the active substances were produced.

In the study, he notes that many cheap medicines are manufactured in countries with inadequate environmental legislation that is, moreover, poorly complied with. The research group’s measurements showed, for example, high levels of antibiotics near a wastewater treatment plant in Patancheru, near Hyderabad, the capital of India’s pharmaceutical industry. They also managed to calculate that up to 45 kg of antibiotics are released into the watercourses every day. This is five times the quantity of antibiotics consumed daily throughout Sweden.

In its report, Svenska Yle examines further implications of the study. One is that Finland has succeeded in reducing its pharmaceutical costs by hundreds of millions of euros a year through rules on purchase of the cheapest possible medicines. But this has been done at the price of more severe environmental problems in the producing countries and accelerating antibiotic resistance worldwide.

According to Joakim Larsson, more transparency is needed about how our medicines are produced — especially when countries choose to prioritise cheaper medicines.

‘It’s problematic that we put a premium on the lowest prices when deciding which medicines to subsidise with tax revenue.’

The trade association of the Finnish companies producing generic medicines admits that companies exploiting weak environmental rules have a clear competitive edge.