Article Title

Blood morphine levels in naltrexone-exposed compared to non-naltrexone-exposed fatal heroin overdoses


The aim of this study was to investigate the association between prior exposure to naltrexone and increased risk of fatal heroin overdose using a review of toxicology reports for heroin-related fatalities between July 1997 to August 1999 for two groups: those treated with oral naltrexone and those who were not treated. Additional information for the oral naltrexone group was obtained from clinic files. Naltrexone-treated deaths were identified from the patient database at the Australian Medical Procedures Research Foundation (AMPRF), Perth, Western Australia (WA) through the Western Australian Department of Health, Data Linkage Project. Non-treated cases were identified from the database at the Forensic Science Laboratory, State Chemistry Centre (WA). We identified and investigated blood morphine concentrations following 21 fatal heroin overdoses with prior exposure to naltrexone and in 71 non-naltrexone-exposed cases over the same time period. The proportion of deaths where heroin use was a major contributing factor was little different in the non-naltrexone compared to the naltrexone-exposed group. Furthermore, in `acute opiate toxicity' deaths, blood morphine levels were lower in non-naltrexone-exposed compared with naltrexone-exposed cases. Although there was a higher number of deaths designated as rapid (i.e. occurring within 20 minutes) in the naltrexone-exposed (89%) compared with the non-exposed group (72%) this was not statistically significant. Other drug use in relation to heroin-related fatalities is discussed. Findings do not support the hypothesis that prior exposure to naltrexone increases sensitivity to heroin toxicity.



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