A Hard Pill To Swallow - Cover image
A Hard Pill To Swallow - Cover image

A Hard Pill To Swallow

Apotek Hjärtat

A Hard Pill To Swallow broke new ground by turning polluted water into a new type of medicine, and helped change the debate and the laws in an entire country - and potentially the world.

The Challenge

Hyderabad in India is the world’s biggest manufacturing site for medicine. More than 50% of India’s global exports of medicine are produced here, and make up the major share of medicine imported to the US, Europe and Sweden – our home market. Due to lack of environmental oversight, many factories in Hyderabad still dump their waste straight into nature.  Which means the medicine we take for our health in Sweden and other wealthy countries is actively making people sick and polluting the environment in parts of the world struggling with bigger inequalities. In 2019, Sweden’s biggest privately owned pharmacy Apotek Hjärtat, decided to do something about it.

The Solution

We collected 100 liters of water near the pharmaceutical factories in Hyderabad in collaboration with Sweden’s most outstanding laboratories, RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden). We then
analyzed the water and extracted the active substances, resulting in a completely new kind of medicine: Sordidum Pharmacum - a deadly cocktail extracted from pharma polluted water.

The new ”medicine” was used in an integrated campaign (print, TVC, OOH, SoMe) that aimed to open the eyes of the general public in order to put pressure on politicians in Sweden and the EU. We sent the pills to politicians together with a medication package insert that states what we found in the water, what the effects are, and what we wanted to be done; adding sustainability as a criteria in the procurement of pharmaceuticals on a nationwide level. We also invited all Swedish pharmacies to join us in launching the world’s first label for sustainable pharmaceuticals.

The Result

The campaign received heavy coverage in Swedish news, was seen by 1/3 of the population, drove 1 in 10 Swedes to visit the campaign site and generated 10 000 downloads of the report. Back in India, it was covered by the world’s second largest English newspaper - The Times of India. But more importantly, it changed things.

The campaign led to all major Swedish pharmacies launching a shared label for sustainable pharmaceuticals, based on Apotek Hjärtats original label. Two of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have contacted Apotek Hjärtat to see what they need to change to receive the label.

A new law will soon be passed in the Swedish parliament demanding stricter environmental criteria when procuring pharmaceuticals. By turning pollution into a pill we made the problem
real enough for people to react and politicians to act, and revealed the problems hidden under the surface of the pharmaceutical world.