The low levels of human medicines that have been detected come primarily from patient use resulting from a portion of medicines passing through the human body without being completely metabolized. These compounds then make their way into municipal wastewater treatment systems, where another portion may pass through without being fully degraded and may therefore be discharged into the environment in very small concentrations. To date, scientists have found no evidence of adverse human health effects from the trace levels of pharmaceuticals detected in the environment.
Merck has a formal public policy position on pharmaceuticals in the environment (PIE), which describes our efforts to work with government agencies, the scientific community and other stakeholders to understand and appropriately respond to this issue. We also participate in many stakeholder collaborations aimed at developing and implementing a science-based approach to evaluating and setting policy related to pharmaceuticals in the environment:
Although not a major source of pharmaceuticals in the environment, proper disposal of unused medicines is another important component of this issue, given that the disposal of medicines in latrines contributes to the trace concentrations detected in the environment. Through our membership with PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America), we have worked to develop and implement the SMARxT Disposal Program, designed to provide the general public with information on proper disposal of unused medicines.