America is facing an opioid addiction epidemic, and it is not just affecting humans. In Puget Sound, off the western coast of Washington state, scientists have discovered marine life contaminated with oxycodone.
Mussels in Puget Sound tested positive for the drug when scientists were doing a routine examination of water pollution, according to a KIRO News 7 report. To check for contamination, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) move fresh, clean mussels from Penn Cove on Whidby Island to any water that scientists want to test.
The WDFW, along with a team from the Puget Sound Institute, analyzed the mussels after leaving them in the water for a period of time, and the researchers were stunned to find them polluted with oxycodone. This marks the first time the opioid has ever been found in marine life in Washington.
“It’s telling me there’s a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area,” said WDFW biologist Jennifer Lanksbury. “The contamination is likely coming from wastewater treatment plants.”
While water does get filtered for contaminants by the King County Wastewater treatment facility before entering Puget Sound, the system does not catch everything. Officials with the plant told KIRO 7 that drugs are one of several pollutant types that easily pass through the filters.
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The most recent test shows the opioid crisis is causing harm to both people and wildlife. The WDFW plans to ask the state for additional funding to continue testing polluted water to look specifically for opioids and other drugs.
“Those are definitely chemicals that are out there in the nearshore waters and they may be having an impact on the fish and shellfish that live there,” Lanksbury said.
Per a KUOW report, chemotherapy drugs, heart medication, antibiotics, and other antidepressants were also found in the mussels. Researchers also found chinook salmon with drugs in their systems as well.
An estimated 300 pounds of pharmaceuticals and personal care products are dumped into Puget Sound every day, according to a 2016 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published by Science Direct. Many of the substances were in an amount large enough to cause significant damage to the ecosystem.
According to the WDFW, people who eat mussels from a restaurant or grocery store should not be worried about getting high on opioids. Mussels sold to hungry consumers are harvested from clean locations and are not obtained from Puget Sound.