So many people are using opioids in Seattle and the surrounding area that even the mussels in the Puget Sound are testing positive, according to a University of Washington study cited by the BBC.
In 2016, Washington's Kings County, home to the city and the Puget Sound, recorded a record-breaking 332 opioid-related overdoses. During the same year, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration calculated that 300 pounds of pharmaceuticals, personal care products and industrial compounds found their way to the Puget Sound each day. Some at levels high enough to harm fish populations.
So, a study conducted by the University of Washington and several partner organizations decided to test the levels of opioids filtering into the Sound. They did it by placing "clean mussels" in several areas spots around the Puget Sound. Of the 18 locations tested, three showed signs of opioids. None of the contaminated batches were found near commercial beds, luckily.
Scientists used mussels as a way to test pollution in Seattle's waters and discovered high enough oxycodone levels for the shellfish to test positive.
Mussels do not metabolise opioids, but some fish can become addicted.
Mussels are filter-feeders, which means they filter water for nutrients to nourish themselves. In the process, they end up storing pollutants in their tissues, which makes them a prime indicator species.
State researchers distributed clean mussels around the Puget Sound and extracted them months later to test the waters.
Of the 18 locations scientists used, three showed traces of oxycodone. The drug traces were not enough to get any humans high from consumption, but enough to indicate a problem, officials said.
Most fish in the Puget Sound don't process opioids. But some, like the zebrafish, do experience withdrawal symptoms, according to a different academic study. Still, the fact that mussels are testing positive indicates that the opioid problem in the area is getting worse, not better.
It's also worth noting that the doses found in the water were a thousand times smaller than the dose it would take to get a human high.
Still, area residents should be concerned because the opioids could filter down through the food chain.
The levels of opioids in the waters were thousands of times smaller than a human dose, but data shows that the US opioid epidemic has filtered down to other species in America's ecosystems.
"People should be wary," Ms Lanksbury told KIRO7 News.
"Hopefully our data shows what's out there and can get the process started for cleaning up our waters."
The Department of Fish and Wildlife said the test was a one-time study, but that it will seek additional funding to keep testing Washington's waters.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife said it will be seeking funding to continue monitoring levels of...