Drugs Down the Drain: Crawdads and Little Blue Pills

Crawdads are feisty little creatures when they aren't doing drugs. Photo provided by author

In trying to keep you readers apprised of the latest trends, activities and issues dealing with the hunting and fishing in particular or the environment in general, I tap into a variety of sources. One of them recently highlighted a connection and possible concern about native crayfish (commonly called crawdads) living in an environment polluted by a common, little blue pill.

No, I’m not talking about that little blue pill. I’m referring to the over-the-counter drug called naproxen sodium, sodium naproxen or just plain naproxen. You may know it as Aleve, Midol or the generic, store brands equivalents listed by one of the above chemical names. All are blue.

Several studies have found naproxen to be one of many pharmaceuticals commonly found in waste water. The research paper I read didn’t specify, so I can only speculate, naproxen either gets into the waste water either as a pass-through-the-body residual in human waste or by improper disposal of aged or left-over supplies down the drain or toilet. Regardless of how it gets there, few sewage treatment plants can or even attempt to remove naproxen from the water they treat.

Treatment plants process the waste water entering the plant. The treated water is released into rivers or lakes and for the most part becomes safe for humans and animals to reuse as needed. However, scientists are looking into residual chemicals, including naproxen, to learn what’s left over and to determine if any minute amounts of the left-over stuff in the effluent have any direct or accumulative affects on fish, wildlife or humans.

In this case, Dr. Paul Moore, an ecologist from Bowling Green State University subjected native species of crayfish to water dosed with naproxen. He first learned crayfish are natural born fighters. He said, “Crayfish fight all the time, and the fighting determines who gets food, who gets shelters, who gets mates.”

He tested two naproxin delivery methods, one delivered a constant flow of highly diluted naproxen contaminated water for almost a day, the other subjected the test crayfish to a quick dose of a less diluted naproxen level, though not enough to kill the crawdad. Then he squared off dosed “bugs” with undosed crawdads for 15 minute bouts.

Regardless of which naproxen treatment was given the test crayfish, they were less aggressive and fought with less intensity than the undosed crawdads. The ones given a short, high dose faired worse than the ones more dilute but longer exposure.

I wasn’t able to find out the exact dose of naproxin used in Moore’s tests, the amount commonly found in treated waste water or in lakes or streams into which treated water is released. No doubt, Moore’s tests involved much higher concentrations than would realistically be found in real situations. That doesn’t make it bad science.

There are no known human health risk at the low levels of naproxen or other pharmaceuticals currently tested for and being found. Effects on fish and aquatic life can be a real indicator of concern for humans and studies like this are indicators to the need to pay more attention.

Studies such as this also points out the need to dispose of left-over, dated or no longer needed pills and medicines properly. Dumping them down the drain is not proper.

On Saturday, April 29, 2017 the Indiana State Police participated in the thirteenth nationwide “Prescription Drug Take Back” initiative sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA.) Collection sites were set up nationwide for expired, unused, and unwanted drugs to be turned in for destruction. This program is intended for both liquid and pill medications.
The Indiana State Police set up collections sites at every post (except the Toll Road.)
Statewide they collected a total of 1,245 pounds of unused or expired medication.

Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs come with disposal instructions. Read the small print. You may just help a crawdad live a happier life.

(Editor’s note: Many local police agencies, Sheriff Officers or County Health Departments either offer drug disposal or will advise you where to properly dispose of unused medication)

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Mike Schoonveld

Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest.

Mike can be reached through his website www.brother-nature.com or visit Mike’s Outdoor World Blog at www.bronature.com

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