The opioid epidemic has seeped into communities across every socio-economic status in the United States, becoming the worst drug epidemic in the history of the country. But now it looks like the problem is more far-reaching than we’d realized, as scientists at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have discovered trace amounts of oxycodone in marine life off the coast of Seattle.


Where are these opioids coming from? The toilet, apparently. When the drugs have gone through a person’s system, trace amounts are excreted out when that person uses the bathroom. Although wastewater is treated before it’s sent out into the oceans, at this time, treatment facilities aren’t able to entirely filter out pharmaceuticals. So if you can imagine a drug epidemic, larger than ever before, think about all of those people, taking all of those drugs, and how much is working its way into water systems that receive treated wastewater.


It’s a lot.


We don’t know what the full effects of this will be, but we do know oxycodone has been identified in mussels in Puget Sound, off the coast of Seattle.



Of the 3254 approved drugs on the market, many are only effective when metabolized in the body. This means that, although the drug might be identified in tissue samples, if the animal doesn’t metabolize the drug the same way a human being does, the drug probably wouldn’t effect that animal. Probably, but we don’t really know. Then again, some of these drugs do effect the wildlife downstream. As to which ones, we still don’t really know.


The dosed Puget Sound mussels were identified as part of a study with the Puget Sound Institute. Mussels were used because, as “filter feeders,” they strain food particles, tiny organisms, and floating matter from the water, and circulate it through their systems for food. This concentrates whatever is in the water into their tissues, making them an excellent barometer for water pollution in their habitats. In three of the 18 locations tested, the mussels tested positive for oxycodone.


Read the whole piece, Mussels off the coast of Seattle test positive for opioids for all the details.


Interested in learning more about the downstream effects of pharmaceuticals in wastewater? This article from The Guardian, What happens to the excreted drugs you flush down the toilet? is a good read.