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article imagePuget Sound mussels test positive for opioids and antibiotics

By Karen Graham     May 26, 2018 in Science
Seattle - Washington state scientists who track pollution have discovered traces of antibiotics and opioids in some Puget Sound mussels, adding to the growing evidence that America's opioid addiction problem is getting out of hand.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife routinely test for pollution in Seattle's waters using clean mussels from Penn Cove on Whidbey Island. The clean mussels are then put in cages and placed in different areas to test for water contamination, and after several months, they are retrieved and tested for a number of pollutants.
Mussels are filter-feeders, and as such, are good barometers for measuring pollution in the waters off Seattle. Mussels absorb contaminants from their environment into their tissues where they become concentrated. It should be noted that the clean mussels were tested for contaminants before the testing began and again after three months at 18 selected locations.
Scientists worked with the Puget Sound Institute to analyze the test results and discovered three out of 18 locations came back positive for trace amounts of oxycodone.
Floating aquaculture on Puget Sound.
Floating aquaculture on Puget Sound.
Joe Mabel
When humans take opioids, or for that matter, any kind of drugs or even antibiotics, they ultimately end up excreting traces of the drugs into the toilet. The trace amounts of these chemicals end up in wastewater. And even though wastewater treatment plants can filter out many contaminants, the technology can't remove everything, including drugs.
So, opioids, antidepressants, the common chemotherapy drug Melphalan - the mussels tested positive for all of them. "What we eat and what we excrete goes into the Puget Sound," Jennifer Lanksbury, a biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told CBS Seattle affiliate KIRO. "It's telling me there's a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area."
Mussels probably don't metabolize drugs like oxycodone, but other marine life, like fish are not so lucky. Scientists at the University of Utah recently discovered that, if given the opportunity, zebrafish will willingly dose themselves with opioids. Scientists say salmon and other fish might have a similar response.
Actually, in 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated that nearly 300 pounds (136 kilograms) of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and industrial compounds ended up in the Puget Sound each day, some at high enough concentrations to negatively impact fish.
Recovering addicts exercise at Recovery Point in Huntington  West Virginia  where 28 people overdos...
Recovering addicts exercise at Recovery Point in Huntington, West Virginia, where 28 people overdosed on a single day in August after injecting heroin laced with fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic opioid
Brendan Smialowski, AFP
Discovery is a new milestone in opioid epidemic
Yes, there were only traces of opioids found in the mussels, and no, they were not close to any commercial mussel beds, however, the discovery of any opioids in shellfish is a stark new milestone in how bad the opioid epidemic in this country has grown.
So many people are taking drugs that we are now putting marine life at risk, and that is unimaginable. “People should be wary,” Lanksbury said. “Hopefully our data shows what’s out there and can get the process started for cleaning up our waters.”
More about Mussels, Washington state, opioids, Antibiotics, Addiction