Mussels found in Washington’s Puget Sound have tested positive for small amounts of oxycodone. This substantiates evidence that the opioid prescription medication is frankly everywhere.
Researchers at the Puget Sound Institute said the discovery of pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs in harbors in the Seattle and Bremerton areas is not uncommon. But this is the first time that opioids have been found in local shellfish.
We Found Antibiotics, Antidepressants, Chemotherapy Drugs
“We found antibiotics, we found antidepressants, chemotherapy drugs, heart medications and also oxycodone,” biologist Jennifer Lanksbury said. She led the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife study.
Scientists have determined that many medications are passed into the Puget Sound because of discharge from wastewater treatment plants. This information came from the state’s biennial Puget Sound Mussel Monitoring Program. Uncontaminated mussels are transplanted into various locations to study pollution levels.
Mussels are the preferred test subject to track toxins in marine life because they are filter feeders. They eat microscopic plants and animals that they strain out of seawater.
“They pick up all sorts of contaminants, so at any given time their body tissues record data about water quality over the previous two to four months,” the institute noted.
The amount of oxycodone found in the tainted mussels was thousands of times lower than a therapeutic dose for humans. And the drug was only ingested by mussels in three of 18 test sites.
Andy James, who assisted with the study, said it’s unlikely mussels can metabolize the drugs. In any event, researchers are concerned about the potential for the impact of the drug on fish, which are know to respond to opioids.
Zebrafish Willingly Dose Themselves
Lab studies have indicated that given the choice, zebrafish willingly dose themselves with opioids. It is possible that salmon and other fish may do the same.
In addition to oxycodone, scientists found high levels of the chemotherapy drug Melphalan in mussels. It is a potential carcinogen. James said that the drug was at “levels where we might want to look at biological impacts.”