America–Most Expensive Pee In the World

Fair Warning: If you’re feeling queasy, don’t read any further. The big news today is that we Americans are drinkingglass_of_water.jpg our pee. That’s basically what the AP article about finding easily detectable levels of pharmaceuticals in the water supply all boils down to (pardon the phrase). You may be shocked to realize this about yourself, but it’s true. What we pee, and poop out, is staying in our water. It’s in the cup of tea you’re holding right now. It’s in the steaming water on the stove, waiting for you to drop in the broccoli. It is, in fact, spreading into all water, everywhere.

Some people are peeing out nitroglycerin for you to drink (no, that’s not the reason your burps sound explosive), some people are peeing out estrogens (sorry about the man-boobs, guys), and lots of cows are peeing out steroids in cow-sized doses (and still I can’t bulk up!).

If you don’t believe me, go take a multivitamin and then pee–that’s your $1 pill you see coloring the toilet bowl. If it’s a new antibiotic we’re talking about, you could be peeing out literally hundreds of dollars a day. Kind of makes your sphincter wince, doesn’t it?

It’s not just pee, either. The same hold true with, well, you know…number two (never say we don’t try to stay G-rated here at When you swallow a pill, generally one of two things happens. For some drugs, the little workers in your two kidney-plants shout “turn on the sump pumps, NOW!” and gazillions of tiny valves twirl open and drug starts spewing into the outflow tract. Or, with other drugs, millions of little I-Love-Lucy cells in your liver start grabbing drug that goes by on your blood’s conveyor belt, tossing the molecules into a bin to get rid of them. Sometimes the drug gets dumped out in your bile (directly to the guts).

Here’s another shocker–sometimes, despite swallowing it, you don’t actually even get the drug at all–studies have shown that some drugs (especially time-release ones) get pooped out without being completely absorbed (sometimes it’s not absorbed at all).

No matter which process we’re talking about, after you take a pill, the drugs pee and poo hit the toilet bowl and go swirling into your municipal sewer plant where a lot of time and energy is spent getting rid of germs and contaminants like heavy metals. And nothing is done about the drugs. Standard water filters (like the one on your sink or refrigerator door) don’t get the drugs out either. Bottled water isn’t doing any better (especially when lots of bottled water is just tap water, and even rural water tables are contaminated).

The only thing for sure is that we all ought to figure out how to follow the glorious Olympia Dukakis’ words in the movie Moonstruck, when she leaned across an elegant restaurant table and said in a cigar-chewing voice, “Here’s a piece of advice. Don’t s#@t where you eat.”

So what’s a body to do? First, never dispose of pills by flushing them down the toilet. Toss the childproof bottle into the trash instead. That’s not a great solution, but, at this point in time, it’s better than the flush. Second, it’s time we start tackling this problem before it gets even more serious. Pharmaceutical companies are sitting on record profits. For decades Big Pharma has been saying that the extortionate prices they charge are not so they can have those mega-profits (a kind of “don’t look over there at the profit, look over here at what I want you to see” sleight of hand). Instead, Big Pharma says those prices are necessary because of research and development costs–hoping we won’t notice all the evidence that most drugs nowadays are me-too flavors of existing drugs, and that most truly new drugs are being patented after our tax dollars paid to develop them through NIH grant-funding (a mega drug-company subsidy). We here at Doc Gurley propose that (just like with asbestos and lead) the pharmaceutical industry could avoid a lot of lawsuits heartache by putting some of those mythical research and development dollars into developing a drug-removal process for water treatment. While it’s kind of like asking the lion to unclamp his jaws from around the gazelle’s bleeding neck, I’m thinking that maybe all of us could talk Big Pharma into pocketing just a tiny bit less profit (call me hopelessly naive!) by directing some funds into this issue before it blows up in our faces. Think about it! How big of a goodwill gesture would that be? It would even be hard to force a SuperFund-type clean-up program on Big Pharma if they were already voluntarily devoting R&D funds into a non-profit water-cleaning device for municipalities.

In what can only be called a superb bit of coordinated publicity, the Vatican announced today that pollution has been added as a new deadly sin, as well as “mind-damaging drugs.” Yeowza! And if that wasn’t enough, at the same time the Vatican also took pains to re-emphasize the fact that greed, in particular, is a deadly sin, saying “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Coincidence?

Here’s your chance! Weigh in on the sanity of Doc Gurley–vote in the comments section: 1) clearly, she drank too many cups of steroids tea–she’s really lost it if she thinks Big Pharma will ever do something like this, or 2) yeah! she’s right! let’s write letters! let’s call our representatives! let’s dance in a circle with (estrogen-saturated) flowers on our heads! or 3) the only thing for certain, after publishing this post, is that Doc Gurley’s chances for a Lily Pharmaceutical “honorarium” have gone down the toilet faster than a $4 dose of Cymbalta.

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