Journal Article

Identification of Tramadol and its Metabolites in Blood from Drug-Related Deaths and Drug-Impaired Drivers

Kabrena E. Goeringer, Barry K. Logan and Gary D. Christian

in Journal of Analytical Toxicology

Volume 21, issue 7, pages 529-537
Published in print November 1997 | ISSN: 0146-4760
Published online November 1997 | e-ISSN: 1945-2403 | DOI:
Identification of Tramadol and its Metabolites in Blood from Drug-Related Deaths and Drug-Impaired Drivers

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Tramadol is a centrally acting, binary analgesic that is neither an opiate-derived nor a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug and that was approved for use in the United States in 1995. It is used to control moderate pain in chronic pain settings such as osteoarthritis and postoperative cases. Used in therapy as a racemic mixture, the (+)-enantiomer weakly binds to the µ-opioid receptor, and both enantiomers inhibit serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake. Tramadol's major active metabolite, O-desmethyltramadol (ODT), shows higher affinity for the µ-opioid receptor and has twice the analgesic potency of the parent drug. The synergism of these effects contributes to tramadol's analgesic properties with the (+)-enantiomer exhibiting 10-fold higher analgesic activity than the (−)-enantiomer. Although tramadol was initially thought to exhibit low abuse potential, Ortho-McNeil, the drug's manufacturer, recently reported a large number of adverse events attributed to tramadol including abuse by opioid-dependent patients, allergic reactions, and seizures. The high number of adverse reactions has prompted the company to update the prescribing information for the drug. An analytical method using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) without derivatization for the determination of tramadol and its metabolites is reported. An n-butyl chloride extraction is followed by GC-MS analysis using a 5% phenylmethylsilicone column (30 m × 0.32-µm i.d.). Analysis of 12 blood samples from tramadol-related deaths and four nonfatal intoxications involving tramadol revealed concentrations ranging from 0.03 to 22.59 mg/L for tramadol, from 0.02 to 1.84 mg/L for ODT, and from 0.01 to 2.08 mg/L for N-desmethyltramadol. Three deaths were clearly attributable to acute morphine toxicity, one was a doxepin overdose, and six were multiple drug overdoses. The role of tramadol in each death is explored.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Medical Toxicology ; Toxicology (Non-medical)

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