The growing opioid epidemic is having a devastating impact across Canada and the US According to Statistics Canada, there were at least 2,923 opioid deaths between January and September 2017 alone.
Somewhat surprisingly, scientists have recently discovered that the crisis also affects Seattle molluscs.
Researchers from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife found oxycodone-contaminated mussels in Puget Sound, located about 200 kilometers south of the Canadian border.
"We found antibiotics, we found antidepressants, chemotherapeutics, heart medicines and also oxycodone," reported Jennifer Lanksbury, the biologist who led the study
versus K5 News .
Shells are filter eaters, meaning they strain seawater for plankton and other creatures. During feeding, pollutants can accumulate in their tissues, making them a "first type of indicator".
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"It seems that the prescriptions for opioids are high enough that they slowly emerge in the waters here, at least in the really … dense urban corridors," Lanksbury told Global News .
The researchers said the pollutants were likely to get into the Puget Sound "through the discharge of treatment plants"; i.e. Urine or pills that were flushed down the toilet. According to the BBC while mussels can not handle opioids, research has shown that some fish species (such as zebrafish) can become addictive.
"What we eat and what we excrete goes into the Puget Sound," Lanksbury said KIRO 7 . "It tells me that many people take oxycodone in the Puget Sound area."