Shellfish In The US Test Positive For Opioids


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

“It’s telling me there’s a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area,” said State Fish and Wildlife biologist Jennifer Lanksbury. Yossapong tulachom/Shutterstock

The US is currently in the daze of an opioid epidemic. Acting as a damning reflection of how prevalent the problem has become, even shellfish living near a US city are testing positive for highly addictive prescription painkillers.

A new study has found traces of oxycodone, a potent and addictive opioid, in the tissues of native bay mussels (Mytilus trossulus) from Seattle and Bremerton area harbors. Not only that, CNN reports that mussels in the area are also testing positive for seven kinds of antibiotics, five types of antidepressants, multiple antidiabetic drugs, and a chemotherapy agent.


The research was carried out by scientists from the Puget Sound Institute of the University of Washington Tacoma. In their words, mussels are “basically tasty sampling devices” that record data about water quality by picking up contaminants in water via filter feeding. This project saw scientists transplant uncontaminated mussels from an aquaculture source into the various bays near Seattle to see what they could find.

The highly addictive oxycodone was ingested by mussels at three of 18 test sites, most likely due to discharge from wastewater treatment plants. The scientists stress that the mussels contained undangerous trace levels of the drugs and were only discovered near urban areas, not commercial shellfish beds.

Nevertheless, you certainly wouldn’t want these mussels anywhere near your dinner plate.

“You wouldn’t want to collect and eat mussels from these urban bays,” study author Andy James said in a statement.


The drugs are not known to affect the mussels as they don’t appear to metabolize the opioids, so don’t expect to see drug-out shellfish knocking around. However, the researchers fear that fish higher up the food chain could be at risk as some species are actually capable of gaining a dependency on these powerful painkillers.

Even beyond the environmental impact, the tainted shellfish hint at the monolithic size of the US opioid epidemic. 

“It’s telling me there’s a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area,” said State Fish and Wildlife biologist Jennifer Lanksbury, who leads the monitoring studies, according to The Associated Press.

“Hopefully our data shows what’s out there and can get the process started for cleaning up our waters,” she said.


A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that overdoses of opioids are going through the roof, accounting for over 142,550 visits to the emergency room each year. The situation is especially dire in Midwestern regions of the US, where overdoses rose by an incredible 70 percent between July 2016 and September 2017.


  • tag
  • pollution,

  • Drug Use,

  • drug,

  • shellfish,

  • drug abuse,

  • mussels,

  • opioid,

  • oxycodone,

  • Seattle