May 25, 2018
Enough People Are Taking Oxycodone In Seattle That Puget Sound Mussels Are Now Flooded With Opioids

Scientists from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife were recently testing Puget Sound in Seattle for levels of pollution and discovered that mussels are now testing positive for opioids, a fact that scientists say points to an alarmingly high use of oxycodone in the area.

Mussels are an excellent way to measure pollution as they take water and filter it, keeping only those nutrients they need to sustain themselves. Because of this, examination of their tissues shows all of the pollutants that have been left behind, as the BBC reports.

In the most recent test of pollution levels in the Seattle area, scientists carefully placed mussels in different locations and then retrieved them later to examine what pollutants the mussels had accrued. Even though only three out of 18 locations showed high levels of opioids, scientists nevertheless concluded that "a lot of people" are using oxycodone in Seattle, according to biologist Jennifer Lanksbury.

"What we eat and what we excrete goes into the Puget Sound. It's telling me there's a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area."
While the amount of opioids that were found in Puget Sound are much smaller than the dose an individual would ever take, this new research has shown that the use of opioids by individuals has an effect that trickles down to other species.

Getty Images | Ron Wurzer

Lanksbury further elaborated that people should be concerned with not just the levels of oxycodone use in Seattle, but also with the fact that opioids are causing pollution in what should be pristine waters.

"People should be wary. Hopefully our data shows what's out there and can get the process started for cleaning up our waters."
Even though mussels are fortunate enough that they aren't capable of metabolizing opioids, this is not true of fish. As CBS reports, researchers at the University of Utah have only just learned that zebrafish will knowingly take doses of opioids if they are able, leaving scientists to assume that the same would almost certainly be true of other species of fish like salmon.

With oxycodone use in Seattle clearly affecting marine life living in Puget Sound as evidenced by mussels testing positive for opioids, scientists will be looking closely at this issue to determine how best to keep the waters of Seattle safe from pollutants like these.