A shocking publication from the European Public Health Alliance in collaboration with the UK organization Changing Markets came out this week reporting that Big Pharma is directly responsible for the recent rise of “superbugs;” bacteria that are resistant to most antibiotics.

This has been a growing problem for the past several decades. Most often it has been attributed to the overuse of antibiotics and sterilizing agents such as hand sanitizers. However, this report, entitled “Drug Resistance Through The Back Door,” identifies the real culprit as contaminants released into the environment by large drug companies like Pfizer, Mylan, Teva and others. Most of this comes from their facilities in China and India, where most of the world’s antibiotics are manufactured.

Because there are few environmental regulations in those countries, these drug makers are allowed to dump their waste products into rivers, lakes and streams. According to the report, this is what has been creating antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Antibiotic waste comes into contact with naturally-occurring bacteria that live in the water, which then adapt to their new conditions – making antibiotic medications less and less effective.

The implications for human health are grave (literally). According to the Centers for Disease Control, two million people in the US contract antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year – and for 23,000 of them, the result is fatal. Within the next 35 years, the annual death rate around the world is expected to reach 10 million, with economic losses reaching as high as $100 trillion. Medical researchers now fear that within a few years, even relatively minor surgeries could become high-risk procedures, and common illnesses such as colds could prove fatal.

Last year, the government of the UK put out its own report on AMR. That publication recognized pharmaceutical waste in the environment as “a supply chain problem that pharmaceutical companies and their suppliers need to solve together.” Good luck on that; as Big Pharma has demonstrated again and again they don’t give a tinker’s damn about anything but maximizing their profits, regardless of the consequences to human health.

Part of the problem is that government bodies around the world are failing to hold these drug makers accountable. Natasha Hurley, a campaign manager at Changing Markets, points out that “Big Pharma’s role in fueling drug resistance is all too often overlooked when policies to curb the spread of AMR are being discussed.” As governments fail to regulate and control Big Pharma, Hurley is “calling for major purchasers of antibiotics to blacklist the worst offenders and send a message to the market that failure to bring antibiotic manufacturing discharges under control will directly impact companies’ bottom line.”

Hopefully, that process is already underway. Already, the report that came out recently is naming names and recommending that major customers who purchase large amounts of antibiotics start boycotting the companies responsible.

That, at least, is something Big Pharma might understand.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.