Oxycodone, Other Drugs Found In Puget Sound Mussels

By Victoria Kim 05/30/18

The mussels also tested positive for antidepressants and Melphalan, a chemotherapy drug.

mussels attached to a rock

Marine life living off the Puget Sound in Washington state are being exposed to prescription medications, raising concerns about contamination of the waters and what that says about the levels of prescription drugs being consumed.

“What we eat and what we excrete goes into the Puget Sound,” said Jennifer Lanksbury, a biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “It’s telling me there’s a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area.”

Scientists at the WDFW decided to test the pollution levels in Seattle’s waters by placing clean mussels in 18 urbanized locations across the Puget Sound. After several months, they tested the same mussels and discovered that in 3 of the 18 locations, the mussels tested positive for trace amounts of oxycodone.

The oxycodone levels were “thousands of times” smaller than a normal human dose, and mussels from these locations would not normally appear on dinner plates, but scientists note that it does raise a concern for the health of marine life in the area. The mussels also tested positive for antidepressants and Melphalan, a chemotherapy drug.

“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,” said Lanksbury, who added that hopefully their research will “get the process started for cleaning up our waters.”

Previously, many other contaminants have been found in the waters of the Puget Sound. The Seattle Times reported in February 2016 that 81 drugs and personal-care products were detected in the waters and in fish tissue—including Flonase, Aleve, Tylenol, Paxil, Valium, Zoloft, Tagamet, OxyContin, Darvon, nicotine, caffeine, and more.

Humans were not in direct harm’s way, as they do not eat this particular type of juvenile chinook salmon or staghorn sculpin, but as Jim Meador, environmental toxicologist at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle noted, “You have to wonder what it’s doing to the fish.”

And over on the other side of the country, scientists detected traces of methamphetamine in Baltimore streams. Environmental scientists are trying to figure out the real impact of all these contaminants turning up in bodies of water and interacting with the wildlife.

“We know, as humans, that if you take one drug and add another drug, these drugs can interact. Out there in the environment, we don’t really understand how these drugs at low concentrations are interacting with one another to influence the ecology of fresh water,” said Dr. Emma Rosi.

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