Journal Article

The Role of Alcohol Abuse in the Etiology of Heroin-Related Deaths. Evidence for Pharmacokinetic Interactions Between Heroin and Alcohol*

Aldo Polettini, Angelo Groppi and Maria Montagna

in Journal of Analytical Toxicology

Volume 23, issue 7, pages 570-576
Published in print November 1999 | ISSN: 0146-4760
Published online November 1999 | e-ISSN: 1945-2403 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jat/23.7.570
The Role of Alcohol Abuse in the Etiology of Heroin-Related Deaths. Evidence for Pharmacokinetic Interactions Between Heroin and Alcohol*

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In order to evaluate pharmacokinetic interactions between heroin and alcohol and their role in the etiology of heroin-related deaths (HRD), the alcohol concentration in blood (BAC), the free (FM) and total morphine (TM) concentrations in blood (determined by DPC Coat-A-Count radioimmunoassay before and after enzymatic hydrolysis), and the TM concentration in urine and bile (DPC Coat-A-Count after enzymatic hydrolysis) in a population of 39 lethal cases included in the records of the Department of Legal Medicine and Public Health at the University of Pavia from the period January 1997–April 1998 were examined. The cause of death in each case was attributed to either heroin or associated heroin-ethanol intoxication. Cases were arbitrarily divided into two groups according to BAC (low-ethanol group, LE, BAC ≤ 1000 mg/L and high-ethanol group, HE, BAC > 1000 mg/L). The differences in the FM and TM concentrations in blood, bile, and urine and in the FM/TM ratios between the two groups were statistically evaluated (Mann-Whitney U test). A similar statistical evaluation was carried out on data from a previously published study concerning the disposition of heroin and its metabolites (6-acetylmorphine and morphine) in blood and urine in 23 lethal cases attributed to either heroin or heroin and alcohol intoxication. The values of the following variables in the LE and HE groups were compared: FM, TM, and 6-acetylmorphine concentrations in blood (6-AM); the FM/(FM + 6-AM) ratio; the FM/TM ratio; and the urinary concentrations of heroin, 6-acetylmorphine, and free morphine. Statistical analyses of data indicated that high BACs are associated with reduced hydrolysis of 6-AM to morphine (FM/[FM + 6-AM], p = 0.0022) and that a good inverse correlation exists between BAC and hydrolysis of 6-AM to morphine (r2 = 0.67). High BACs were also found to be associated with an increased FM/TM ratio and with reduced excretion of free and total morphine. These results suggest the hypothesis that pharmacokinetic interactions between heroin and alcohol do occur in individuals exposed to high doses of these substances.

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Subjects: Medical Toxicology ; Toxicology (Non-medical)

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