SARS-CoV-2 pandemic had a significant impact on the society, economy, and health of people around the world with consequences that need to be better understood for future pandemic preparedness. This manuscript provides insights into the usage of pharmaceuticals for pain treatment management throughout SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Four towns and cities with a total population of > 1 million people covering an area of 2000 km 2 in South West England were monitored for twenty-four months. Results showed different patterns in pain pharma usage, with small towns having higher population normalised daily loads (PNDLs) than big cities for majority of pain killers studied. This is likely due to demographics of these cities with smaller cities having older population. Per capita consumption of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) increased compared to pre-pandemic usage in line with SARS-CoV-2 infections (ibuprofen and acetaminophen), while body pain drugs (diclofenac and naproxen) decreased in line with restrictions and closure of sports facilities. Changes in population normalised daily intake (PNDI) of pain killers were particularly apparent during the 1st and 3rd national lockdown. Comparison of PNDIs with prescriptions highlighted differences related to medication availability (OTC drugs) and patients' nonadherence (prescribed drugs). In addition, several instances of direct disposal events across the catchments were observed which raises an issue of lack of pharma compliance and general understanding of potential environmental impacts from pharma usage.

Original languageEnglish
Article number134121
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Early online date12 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2024

Data Availability Statement

Data is available in SI.


  • COVID pandemics
  • NSAIDs
  • Pain treatment
  • SARS CoV-2
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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