Seattle Mussels Test Positive for Opioids

  • Seattle Mussels Test Positive for Opioids

Seattle Mussels Test Positive for Opioids

Oxycodone was detected in mussels from the Seattle and Bremerton harbor areas of the Puget Sound in a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife pollution survey.

While mussels likely don't metabolize drugs like oxycodone, and thus wouldn't necessarily be physically harmed by the presence of it in their tissues, studies show that fish are not so lucky.

Lanksbury said the opioids likely entered the water through human waste, either through urine after ingesting the drugs, or in higher concentrations when people flush pills down the toilet.

"What we eat and what we excrete goes into the Puget Sound". Several months later, they pulled those previously uncontaminated mussels back out of the urban waters and, together with the Puget Sound Institute, tested them again.

Puget Sound Institute scientist Andy James, who assisted with the study, said the areas where the oxycodone-tainted mussels were sampled are considered highly urbanised and are not near commercial shellfish beds.

As the USA continues to grapple with a widespread opioid epidemic, alarming research from Seattle indicates that the local population is consuming so much oxycodone that it's seeping into the local water supply.

"We found antibiotics, we found antidepressants, chemotherapy drugs, heart medications and also oxycodone", said biologist Jennifer Lanksbury.

Scientists usually find chemical compounds in Puget Sound waters, ranging from pharmaceuticals to drugs such as cocaine, but this is the first time that opioids have been discovered in local shellfish, according to the Puget Sound Institute.

The reason mussels are the preferred test subject to track toxins in marine life is because they are filter feeders, eating microscopic plants and animals that they strain out of seawater.

The water gets filtered, but King County Wastewater Management said although their system can catch a lot of contaminants, it can't specifically filter out drugs.

Lanksbury says it's still safe to eat mussels in areas that aren't urbanized, like the ones served at restaurants and fish markets. A previous study showed that zebrafish self-administer the commonly prescribed painkiller hydrocodone, and seek out the drug in risky situations, once they are hooked.

Researchers are finding similar drugs in juvenile chinook salmon.