The national opioid epidemic is officially on another level as mussels in Seattle were found with traces of the drug in its system.

Opioid addiction in the United States is a major problem, and now even marine life is getting contaminated.

Opioids In Washington Waters

While monitoring the pollution levels of Seattle's Puget Sound, researchers discovered oxycodone in the tissues of native bay mussels, according to a report from the Puget Sound Institute earlier in May. The mussels were from the harbors of the Seattle and Bremerton area.

Mussels are an excellent indicator of the environment since they concentrate contaminants into their tissues.

While the amount of oxycodone found in the mussels are thousands of times lower than a human dose, it's still a worrying development due to the drugs' potential effects on local fish. After all, a previous study has found that zebrafish are able to learn dosing themselves with opioids and other fish might have the tendency to do the same.

Other Drugs In Mussels

CNN reports that a number of other pharmaceuticals were found in the mussels' tissue including seven types of antibiotics, five antidepressants, more than one antidiabetic drug, and a chemotherapy agent. There were also four kinds of synthetic surfactants, which are chemicals that make up detergents and other cleaning products.

The surfactants could be particularly problematic.

Jennifer Lanksbury, a biologist from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, explains that surfactants have been found to affect the hormones of fish in "an estrogenic way" including feminizing males.

The chemotherapy agent, Melphalan, was found in high levels, which could be cause for concern as well. Andy James of PSI says the level is at a point that researchers may want to examine the biological impact.

Source Of The Drugs

The presence of opioids in the Puget Sound mussels indicate that a high number of people in the area must be taking the drug.

"A lot of the pharmaceuticals are probably coming out of our wastewater treatment plants," Lanksbury says in CNN. "They receive the water that comes from our toilets and our houses and our hospitals, and so these drugs, we're taking them, and then we're excreting them in our urine so it gets to the wastewater treatment plant in that way."

She adds that people flushing their drugs down the toilet may also be a source of the pharmaceuticals.

Lanksbury also specifies that the contamination is limited to the urban areas of the Puget Sound, while most of the other shorelines of the sound are shown to be clean.