Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon as a representative of the South American deforestation for cocaine plantations.
(Image courtesy Purdom and Nokes 2014)

Substance abuse harms the ecosystem. This damage is a researched and documented fact – albeit perhaps little known and surprising.

In recent years there has been increased awareness of the deteriorating state of our ecosystem and its impact on our quality of life. Thanks to the efforts of environmentalists, most people have been educated about the dangers of pollution, waste, deforestation, biofuel extraction and soil toxicity. But how well is the intrinsic link between drug addiction and environmental damage known?

Drug addiction harms the environment. In fact, one could write an entire book on how drug production, trafficking, trafficking and use lead to significant environmental damage.

As the state of the environment is of immense importance to present and future generations, it is of vital importance to raise awareness of the link between the drug crisis and environmental degradation.

Drug chemicals get into our water supply

“Opiates in Puget Sound.” As alarming and seemingly incredulous as the statement is, several news organizations used these words or a version of them when a 2018 research spread the news that they existed measurable Sets of opiate in the waters of the Puget Sound of Seattle, Washington.

The Puget Sound Institute, a science and research group tasked with studying Puget Sound, reported on their findings. According to Editor-in-Chief Jeff Rice, “Scientists typically find many chemical compounds in the waters of Puget Sound, from pharmaceuticals to illicit drugs like cocaine, but this is the first time opioids have been discovered in local shellfish. It is believed that in this case the pollutants enter the Puget Sound through discharge from sewage treatment plants. Even filtered wastewater can potentially contain traces of thousands of chemicals known to be contaminants of emerging concern (CEC). Agricultural runoff and rainwater are also common sources of CECs. “

The Puget Sound results are not an anomaly. Throughout America, urban areas find traces of mind altering drugs in local water supplies. What does it mean for the ecosystem when opioids, cocaine, cannabis and pharmaceutical chemicals get into the water supply?

illegal drug production and deforestation

Deforestation in progress

Habitat destruction, especially deforestation, has been linked to illicit drug production. Deforestation is particularly damaging because not only does it damage the environment and habitat of this local forest ecosystem, but deforestation also has the added damage of removing critical carbon sinks, i.e. trees.

In many parts of the world, huge forests are being cleared to make way for cannabis plants for marijuana and coca plants for cocaine. According to Burns-Edel and Tristan researchers, “coca plantations accounted for around 7 million hectares of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon in the 20th century. Trends into the 21st century show that this destruction is still rampant; From 2001-2013, over 290,000 hectares of forest were lost through cocaine production processes. “

This problem is getting much, much worse. Not only are old forests being cut down (eliminating important carbon sinks), and not only are biodiversity in these regions being devastated by such destruction, but the most common method of clearing such forests is “slash and burn”.

“Deforestation of coca and marijuana plantations is often associated with ‘burn’ farming, making the already destructive practices exponentially more problematic.”

In the case of slash and burn, rainforests are burned to clear land for drug production. The carbon that has been stored in these trees for decades is suddenly released into the atmosphere when these forests are burned. Again, Burns-Edel and Tristan quote: “The deforestation of coca and marijuana plantations is often correlated with ‘slash and burn’ agriculture, making the already destructive practices exponentially more problematic. If trees are felled during a clear cut, not only can they no longer store the carbon, but the carbon that has accumulated over decades is also released into the atmosphere when the trees are burned. The production of illicit drugs therefore affects the ecosystem level as the plantation efforts further complicate the effects of greenhouse gases and climate change. “

Drug use is closely linked to an increase in CO2 emissions

CO2 emissions
Photo by VanderWolf-Images /

It’s almost impossible to do that wide CO2 emissions caused by pharmaceutical production. From huge pharmaceutical factories (that make highly addictive opioid pain relievers) to legal cannabis production, these activities have a carbon footprint, and it’s big.

If you look at just one topic, indoor cannabis production, the CO2 emissions created by this endeavor alone are terrifying. We refer to Burns-Edel and Tristan – “The average production of 1 kilogram of consumable marijuana results in 4,600 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions. Looking ahead, every cannabis “joint” produced in an indoor facility is the result of three pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. In a single year, indoor cannabis production in the United States emits about 15 million tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of 3 million automobiles annually. ”This one drug manufacturing industry alone has enormous, harmful effects on the environment.

Freshwater Shortage – How Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Consumes Valuable Freshwater

Opiates, arguably one of the most addicting drugs in the world, require the mass cultivation of poppies for production. The current agricultural production of poppy seeds is carried out without regard to environmental protection. Environmental Magazine quotes, “Whether for legal or illegal drug production, the environments in which poppy seeds thrive are inherently more sensitive from an environmental perspective. Opium plantations are particularly common in limestone-heavy mountain regions in Laos, Afghanistan, Myanmar and other countries. The greatest threat to opium processing is illegal logging and widespread deforestation to clear the land required for its cultivation. And wherever a critical mass of forest is removed, the environment becomes more prone to drought, erosion, landslides and floods. In other words, the land becomes uninhabitable for humans and a multitude of animals. “

Water consumption, exhaustion and drought are not only an issue when growing drug-producing crops. Pharmaceutical manufacturers also use a lot of water to make synthetic drugs (including addictive pain relievers). Although the numbers are not entirely clear, one organization claimed that pharmaceutical manufacturing plants are a leading consumer of freshwater. This organization warned pharmaceutical companies to improve on how they conserve water, given the current and impending water shortages around the world.

Keep in mind that while pharmaceutical companies make drugs that are very beneficial to human life, these companies also make addictive, mind altering, and potentially deadly drugs. While this involves a very different discussion of how drugs affect quality of life, keep in mind that the pharmaceutical industry is largely responsible for the opioid epidemic that Americans have been mired in since the turn of the century.

Chemical waste – the sinister by-products of drug manufacturing

Chemical hazard

Photo by BenDC /

While virtually all forms of drug manufacturing involve chemical waste, methamphetamine can produce the most in volume. Meth labs found and convicted in the US must be marked as biohazard zones and will contaminate the area they are in for years to come. Not only is it quite costly to clean a meth lab (up to $ 50,000 for some labs), there is also no way to completely eliminate this lab’s impact on the local environment. For every pound of meth produced, there is at least five pounds of toxic waste left.

Meth labs leave behind toxic chemicals that are so powerful that they are harmful to human health. According to one study, “phosphine gas reached 2.9 parts per million (ppm), three times the short-term occupational exposure limit. Phosphine causes headaches, pulmonary edema, and death. The hydrogen chloride fumes reached 155 ppm, more than three times what the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health classified as “Immediately Hazardous to Life or Health”. Hydrogen chloride causes damage to the airways. Ammonia, which causes pulmonary edema, also rose to three times the ‘Immediately dangerous to life or health’. ”If meth labs pose a serious risk to human life, the impact those labs have on the fragile ecosystems in which they are located , for sure. be devastating.

A healthy environment starts with a drug-free community

As if Americans needed another reason to keep their family members, loved ones, friends, co-workers, and townspeople safe, sober, and drug-free! But the fact is, if we are to live on a healthy planet that is well suited for human life, we must help drug addicts get into treatment programs. Effective treatment eliminates the need for medication. And when the demand dries up, such drugs no longer have to be manufactured and thus continue to pollute the environment.


Reviewed by Claire Pinellli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP, LCDC

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