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Safeguarding Waterways

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Gigi Wong raises awareness about pharmaceutical contamination of waterways.

With a deep-rooted understanding of the critical link between human health and the environment, pharmacist Gigi Wong is spearheading a movement to educate her peers about the detrimental impacts that drug contamination can have on waterways.

Gigi is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist for Quality with the Lower Mainland Pharmacy Services and has been part of the regional Green+Leaders program for nearly a decade. As part of her “green pharmacy” work, Gigi works tirelessly to educate those around her about the often overlooked consequences of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Gigi’s main focus is to raise awareness about the harmful effects of drugs on non-target organisms, particularly aquatic life, and how this ultimately impacts human health. When drugs enter the environment, they become contaminants, making their way into rivers, lakes, and other water sources. This disruption of the delicate ecological balance can lead to harmful effects on ’non-target organisms,’ particularly aquatic life, and contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance in these organisms. Approximately 88 per cent of drugs enter the environment through human consumption.

One study she highlights investigates the impact of estrogen estradiol, a common hormone found in oral birth control pills, on minnows. The findings reveal that exposure to estrogen caused minnow male fish to develop eggs, resulting in a decreased likelihood of successful reproduction and eventual extinction.

Gigi emphasizes the importance of educating people about the consequences of improper disposal of medications, such as flushing them down toilets.

“Drugs improperly disposed of or flushed down the drain can have far-reaching consequences for our waterways and the organisms that rely on them,” she stresses.

The impacts of pharmaceuticals on the environment often leaves Gigi’s colleagues “shocked, horrified, amazed and blown-away,” reports Gigi. “They’re perplexed about why they don’t learn the information in the academic curriculum.” With their newfound tools and information, however, Gigi believes they can reduce how many pharmaceuticals enter rivers and lakes through collective action.

Pharmacists, prescribers and clinician colleagues are uniquely positioned to protect local waterways. Health care staff such as pharmacists, physicians and nurses can advise patients on safe and responsible ways to dispose of unwanted medications and set up drug waste collection within communities and health care facilities. As well, in certain settings like hospitals, drugs that are returned should be recirculated where suitable.

Through her relentless advocacy efforts, Gigi Wong has become a respected figure within the pharmacy community. Her passion for environmental sustainability, coupled with her knowledge and dedication, have made her a driving force for change. Gigi’s efforts to educate her peers about the environmental consequences of drug waste, is paving the way for a greener pharmacy practice. By empowering her peers with the tools and information needed to make a difference, Gigi is protecting water and all the beings that depend on it.