An opioid was first discovered in shellfish off the coast of Washington, according to a new study indicating that the effects of the pain killer epidemic have transcended the human population.
Oxycodone has been detected in mussels from the Seattle and Bremerton port areas of Puget Sound in an environmental study by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Traces of the chemotherapeutic drug melphalan, a potential carcinogen, have also been discovered.
Melphalan was on "planes where we could study biological effects," said scientist Andy James of the Puget Sound Institute in a statement. Experts believe that drug residues are likely to reach wastewater from sewage treatment plants in the waters off the coast of Washington.
Researchers at Washington's Puget Sound Mussel Monitoring Program take unshorn shells from Whidbey Island and place them every two years in Puget Sound. When the mussels are eaten by filtering water, their tissue provides insight into contaminants.
After two to three months, the scientists remove the creatures and analyze the contaminants stored in their tissues.
Researchers at the Puget Sound Institute said oxycodone concentrations in the mussels were thousands of times lower than the medical dose and explained that the animals probably would not metabolize the drug.
James said the shells were found in heavily urbanized areas, not commercial shellfish, and that seafood from the Puget Sound was safe to eat.
"You do not want to collect [and eat] shells from these urban bays," he said.
Other chemicals in Puget Sound waters ranged from pharmaceuticals to illicit substances such as cocaine, but scientists have never found opioids in local clams until now. Such chemicals are known as Contaminants of Emerging Interest (CECs).
Jennifer Lransbury, a biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said to Kiro7, "It tells me that many people take oxycodone in the Puget Sound area."
She stressed that while shells are safe, the public is over
"Hopefully our data will show what's out there and may start the process of cleaning our waters," Lanksbury said.