Jane
Mussels placed in Puget Sound, off the coast of Seattle, tested positive for traces of opioids
Shellfish in waters off Seattle have for the first time tested positive for opioids, marking a worrying new chapter in America’s battle against addiction.
Scientists took farmed mussels from clean waters around Whidbey Island, 30 miles north of Seattle, and put them in various locations in Puget Sound, an estuary on the Seattle coast.
They discovered that mussels in three out of 18 locations came back positive for trace amounts of the painkiller oxycodone. Two were near Bremerton’s shipyard and one was in Elliot Bay, near Harbor Island in Seattle.
The scientists from the Puget Sound Institute insisted that seafood lovers should not be concerned – the amount present was tiny, and the mussels were placed in urban areas where shellfish is not cultivated anyway. :eyeroll
But, they said, it was a sign of how America’s opioid addiction is affecting the natural world.
"What we eat and what we excrete goes into the Puget Sound," said Jennifer Lanksbury, a biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"It's telling me there's a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area."
Previous studies have shown traces of cocaine and other drugs in the mussels, which act as water filters and provide a good analysis of contaminates. But it is the first time opioids have been detected.
Mussels are not believed to process drugs like oxycodone, and thus would not necessarily be physically harmed by the presence of it in their tissues, but 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.
Ms Lanksbury said the results should be a wakeup call.
“Hopefully our data shows what’s out there, and can get the process started for cleaning up our waters,” she said.
Drug overdoses have dramatically increased over the last two decades, with deaths more than tripling between 1999 and 2016, according to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC).
In 2016, more than 63,000 people died from drug overdoses, and more than 42,000 of these involved prescription or illicit opioids.
The CDC said in March that the overdose death rate from synthetic opioids, excluding methadone, more than doubled in the period 2015-16. They said the death toll was likely driven by illicitly-manufactured fentanyl.
Washington state is not even the worst affected area. West Virginia, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and areas of the Mid West, including Ohio and Utah, are seen as among the hardest hit.
by Harriet Alexander, New York