Modern Medicine

Today’s pharmacies are stocked with medicines designed to treat everything from seasonal allergy symptoms to cancer. Seventy years ago, the cure for strep throat and ear infections included aspirin and long periods of bed rest. Thanks to modern antibiotics, these ailments are now usually treated in a matter of days. There are medicines to control asthma symptoms and anemia, and a wide variety of other things that can get you down. But these examples are just the “tip of the iceberg” considering the full offering of the modern pharmacy.

While chemistry is vital to manufacturing modern pharmaceuticals, chlorine chemistry, in particular, plays a significant role in producing the medicines we use the most.

Vital to Pharmaceuticals

It is estimated that chlorine chemistry is essential to the manufacture of at least 88 percent of prescription pharmaceuticals currently sold in the United States and Canada. Drugs produced with chlorine chemistry are used to treat many medical conditions and diseases, including high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, stomach ulcers, anemia, depression, asthma, high blood pressure, inflammation and epilepsy. 

In about 25 percent of pharmaceuticals, chlorine is present in the final drug formulation. In other cases, chlorine chemistry plays a supporting role in drug synthesis. For example, a hydrochloric acid solution may be used to control pH during the manufacturing process, or chlorinated solvents may be used as separating or purification agents. Frequently, large, complex drug molecules are synthesized from smaller “intermediate” molecular fragments. Chlorine, though absent in the final product, may be used as a facilitator during these “chemical construction projects.”

Where chlorine is present in pharmaceuticals, it may appear in the form of a chloride (Cl) or hydrochloride (hydrogen and chlorine, HCl) salt. Alternatively, chlorine may be bonded to the pharmaceutical structure in a way that has a direct effect on its therapeutic activity. Although the amount of chlorine used in pharmaceutical production is very small, there are substantial health and economic benefits.

Chlorine Chemistry: The Economic Benefit

Studies show pharmaceuticals help reduce overall health care costs and help improve the quality of life for those who use them properly. Without effective and safe pharmaceutical products, patients would place greater demands on physician visits, and experience longer stays in hospital and nursing homes.

According to one analysis, the  net economic benefit of chlorine chemistry to consumers of pharmaceuticals is about $450 billion per year. This estimate is based on the increased cost of maintaining health without the benefit of pharmaceuticals produced with chlorine chemistry.

Life-saving medicines are just one sign that we are living in a high-tech, innovative world. Chlorine chemistry plays a significant role in delivering this significant public health benefit to us.

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