THE anti-depressant drug Prozac is being taken in such large quantities in Britain that it has entered water supplies.
Experts from the Environmental Agency are calling for an immediate investigation after it emerged that quantities of the medication were found in rivers and groundwater used for drinking supplies.
The government’s environmental watchdog has met officials from leading pharmaceutical companies to discover whether traces of the drug could have an impact on the nation’s health or the ecosystem.
A recent report by the Environmental Agency concluded the Prozac, dubbed the "happy pill" in the United States where it is hugely popular for its mood-lifting qualities, could be potentially toxic. It also branded its presence a "potential concern".
Experts have also voiced concerns that the drug, which they believe has found its way into the water system from treated sewage water, could seriously damage the human reproductive system.
Exact amounts of Prozac detected in British waters have not been specified but the government’s Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) said it was likely that the drug has been found in such diluted concentrations that health risks involved will be minimal.
Despite this, the discovery will raise concerns that GPs are over-prescribing the pill, Britain’s most popular anti-depressant drug.
In the decade up to 2001, prescriptions of Prozac rose from nine million to 24 million a year.
Dr Andy Crawford, the Environmental Agency policy manager for pesticides said an investigation was needed to find how such traces of the drug impacts health.
"We need to determine the effects of this low-level, almost continuous discharge," he said.
Norman Baker, environmental spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said people needed to know what risks were involved.
"This looks like a case of hidden mass medication upon the unsuspecting public," he said. "It is alarming there is no monitoring of levels of Prozac and other pharmacy residues in our drinking water."
European studies in the past have raised fears about the build-up of drugs in the environment and highlighted that a negative impact of this upon human health and that of wildlife "cannot be excluded".
However, a DWI spokesman was confident all such health risks are eliminated before drinking water reaches people’s homes.
"Advanced treatment processes installed for pesticide removal are effective in removing drug residues," he said.