Published: Sat, May 26, 2018
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Mussels In Waters Off Seattle Test Positive For Opioids

Mussels In Waters Off Seattle Test Positive For Opioids

Mussels in Puget Sound have tested positive for opioids and antibiotics.

Other chemicals found in Puget Sound waters ranged from pharmaceuticals to illegal substances like cocaine, but scientists have never found opioids in local shellfish until now. Researchers took clean mussels from Penn Cove on Whidby Island and placed them in cages in Puget Sound, where they took in trace contaminants from their new home after two or three months. And it's not just opioids that end up in water, drugs like antidepressants and chemotherapy are detected in the mussels, too. Scientists have found traces of oxycodone in shellfish near Bremerton and in Seattle's Elliott Bay.

While the mussels themselves likely don't metabolize the drug - and therefore shouldn't be affected by it - the fact that it's there raises concerns about the fish in the area. Instead, they were used specifically to measure levels of pollution in the waters of Puget Sound, according to a May 9 statement from the Puget Sound Institute (PSI) at the University of Washington, Tacoma.

Small amounts of drugs are deposited in human waste after they're ingested, which wastewater management systems struggle to completely remove, resulting in trace amounts of narcotics being dumped into oceans, according to the outlet.

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The Institute reported that the amount of oxycodone found in the tainted mussels was thousands of times lower than a therapeutic dose for humans. "It's telling me there's a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area". 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. Scientists say salmon and other fish might have a similar response.

The transplanted locations aren't near any commercial shellfish beds.

"It seems like the prescriptions for opioids are high enough that it's starting to come out in the waters here at least in the really you know, dense urban corridors", Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Jennifer Lanksbury told Global News.

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.

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