Seafood has long been known to be a healthy addition to our diets. Because fish, octopus, and shrimp are low in fat and high in protein, they offer a nutritious boost to our diets without adding a lot of fat as red meat and pork does. But if you live in the Pacific Northwest, you might want to rethink your intake of seafood, especially shellfish. Because people are abusing opioids are unprecedented rates in Seattle, researchers discovered something strange about the mussels in the Puget Sound. They were testing pollution levels and discovered instead that this favorite seafood item has trace amounts of oxycodone in its tissue.
Drug abusers prefer oxycodone because it is a powerful and oft-prescribed narcotic to relieve pain. It’s highly addictive, and one of the most common drugs sold illegally to those looking to engage in the opioid trade. It has been compared to a legalized version of heroin.
Because drug abuse is so prevalent in Seattle and other cities in the area, including Portland, the opioid epidemic is affecting the wildlife. The Puget Sound Mussel Monitoring Program gathered data. They transport mussels, which are supposed to be uncontaminated, to “highly urbanized areas.” But now they are finding that the mussels are getting more and more contaminated with traces of addictive drugs.
Mussels feed on the discarded biological waste that gets spewed into the surrounding environment. Because so many humans are contaminated with opioids, it is affecting the mussels.
The data scientists found that “native bay mussels from Seattle and Bremerton area harbors” tested positive for narcotics. The study was conducted by researchers at the Puget Sound Institute, which operates as part of the University of Washington and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Jeff Rice, the managing editor at the Puget Sound Institute, said, “Mussels, which are filter feeders, concentrate contaminants from the local marine environment into their tissues.”
Because so many humans abuse opioids in Seattle, it is changing the chemical makeup of the mussels’ tissue.
After mussels spent two or three months at the “urban” transport site, oxycodone tested positive in the mussels. Although the amount of the drug present “were thousands of times lower than a therapeutic dose for humans.”
Nevertheless, the drug is present in the shellfish of the Pacific Northwest.
Because opioids are getting into the water, fish are becoming addicted to the substance, Rice explains.
University of Utah researchers published supporting material that showed how zebrafish sought out doses of opioids. And scientists believe the salmon and other fish would have the same response to the addictive substances.
Mussels have tested positive for drugs before. Researchers have noted the presence of cocaine and other pharmaceuticals in their tissue before. But Rice assured the concerned public that this is the first time opioids were discovered in the freshwater mussels.
“It’s telling me there’s a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area,” Washington Fish and Wildlife biologist Jennifer Lanksbury told KIRO-7 News. “What we eat and what we excrete goes into the Puget Sound.”