Traces of oxycodone found in mussels in Seattle coastal waters is a signal of just how bad the opioid epidemic has become, researchers at the Puget Sound Institute reported.
People should be worried by the results of the study which highlights how the human opioid epidemic is now showing up in such areas, Jennifer Lanksbury, a biologist at the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife, told KIRO-TV on Wednesday.
"What we eat and what we excrete goes into the Puget Sound," Lanksbury said. "It's telling me there's a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area. The contamination is likely coming from wastewater treatment plants."
The institute’s researchers deposited clean mussels in cages in 18 locations, KIRO-TV said. They found mussels retrieved three months later from three locations came back positive for trace amounts of oxycodone – two near Bremerton's shipyard and one in Elliot Bay near Harbor Island.
Mussels are filter feeders, meaning that they concentrate contaminants from the local marine environment into their tissues, said the Puget Sound Institute, while noting the discovery made as part of the Puget Sound Mussel Monitoring program by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"You wouldn't want to collect (and eat) mussels from these urban bays," said Andy James of the institute, noting that oxycodone was found in amounts thousands of times lower than a therapeutic dose for humans and would not be expected to affect the mussels.
The institute said that even though scientists typically find many chemical compounds in Puget Sound waters – from pharmaceuticals to illicit drugs such as cocaine – this was the first time that opioids were found in local shellfish.
Scientists also found that the mussels found high levels of the chemotherapy drug Melphalan, which is a potential carcinogen due to its interactions with DNA, the institute said.
James noted that the drug was found at "levels where we might want to look at biological impacts."
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