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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 181-183

What's new in critical illness and injury science? The association between initial blood alcohol concentration and polysubstance use may be indicative of a gateway drug effect

Department of Anesthesiology, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus, Ohio, USA

Date of Web Publication18-Dec-2018

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Thomas J Papadimos
Department of Anesthesiology, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus, Ohio
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/IJCIIS.IJCIIS_80_18

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How to cite this article:
Davila VR, Stahl DL, Bhandary SP, Papadimos TJ. What's new in critical illness and injury science? The association between initial blood alcohol concentration and polysubstance use may be indicative of a gateway drug effect. Int J Crit Illn Inj Sci 2018;8:181-3

How to cite this URL:
Davila VR, Stahl DL, Bhandary SP, Papadimos TJ. What's new in critical illness and injury science? The association between initial blood alcohol concentration and polysubstance use may be indicative of a gateway drug effect. Int J Crit Illn Inj Sci [serial online] 2018 [cited 2022 Nov 29];8:181-3. Available from: https://www.ijciis.org/text.asp?2018/8/4/181/247789

In this issue, Jordan et al.[1] have reported their findings regarding the question as to whether trauma patients with an elevated blood alcohol concentration (BAC) (indicating intoxication at >0.10%) were using other substances of abuse (SOA) at the time of their injury.[2],[3] This is particularly relevant because 40%–60% of all patients seen in trauma centers are under the influence of alcohol.[4],[5] What is additionally concerning is that data from two surveys of US adults (National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, n = 43,093; and the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III, n = 36,309) demonstrate that 12-month alcohol use (11.2%), high-risk drinking (29.9%), and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition alcohol use disorder (49.4%) have increased for the US populations across nearly all sociodemographic groups.[6] Furthermore, binge drinking in the US (five or more drinks for men and four or more for women, on one occasion) has gone up 6–7-fold over the past decade.[7] Given that other SOA – both with and without concomitant alcohol consumption – have been linked to an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes, it seems reasonable to presume that a significant percentage of all trauma patients intoxicated with alcohol would also be under the influence of other drugs.[8]

The burden of alcohol in the trauma setting is indeed becoming overwhelmed by the affliction of other substance use disorders. The work by Soderstrom et al. demonstrated in a level 1 trauma center that opiate-positive screenings increased by 543% and cocaine-positive screening by 212% during the last decade and a half of the 20th century.[9] Opioid addiction now affects 2.4 million Americans, and one million of these individuals use heroin (21,000 are minors) with a cost to society of $51 billion annually,[10] and the centers for disease control recently reported that the number of drug overdose deaths has risen nationally to more than 70,000 deaths in 2017.[11] Furthermore, the use of prescription opioids is associated motor vehicle crashes, and the prescriptive use of opioids is also associated with culpability.[12] In other words, our national drug problem as it relates to trauma continues to worsen. In fact, even fundamentalist religious countries, such as Iran, are having increasing problems related to fatal motor vehicle crashes and opioids.[13] The current study adds to the understanding of this problem by identifying that a significant proportion of trauma patients with a BAC >0.10% had evidence of polysubstance use (P < 0.001), including a strong association with opioid and cocaine use (in this study, 14.3% were positive for opioids and 4.5% for cocaine but also 9.67% for marijuana and 13.5% for benzodiazepines). Many of the patients had multiple intoxicants, and the proportion of trauma victims using opioids, marijuana, and cocaine was universally greater in the BAC >0.10% group (but not with benzodiazepines). In fact, more than twice as many patients with BAC >0.10% tested positive for the presence of 1–2 additional SOA.

This study makes an important point regarding the consistency of approach to trauma patients in this time of increasing legal and illegal use of SOA in the US. Of the 4451 patients screened in this study, only 1550 (34.8% [1265 with a BAC <0.10% and 285 with a BAC >0.10%]) were screened for alcohol and “other” substances. This is not a criticism of the authors' efforts but a criticism of a system where physicians in local emergency departments react without an evidence-based approach, i.e., operating without protocols. Bunn et al. have concluded, through their work using the state of Kentucky's Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the Collision Report Analysis for Safer Highways, and mortality data from death certificates, that they could identify the majority of positive drug screens in fatal crashes.[14] However, there was a lack of concordance between the reporting sources, and the authors recommended that states with low rates of driver testing for drugs involved in crashes should make such testing mandatory, at least in fatal crashes.

While opiates and cocaine would seem to be of particular interest to the general readership, it may be that marijuana (cannabis) will play a very important future role in accidents and alcohol. The work of Jordan et al. comes at a unique time because new marijuana laws have been enacted in many states since 2012. As of 2018, nines state in the US have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and over half of the states have legalized it for medical uses.[15] In this changing political and social milieu, Steinemann et al. have reported that marijuana positivity has tripled in motor vehicle crashes in Hawaii and the use of seatbelts by those using marijuana was less likely.[15] Furthermore, Sokoya et al. recently reported that since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, there have been increases in maxillary and skull base fractures in Denver,[16] with an associated growth in the number of hash oil burns, pediatric marijuana exposures, as well as complaints of cyclic vomiting.[17],[18],[19],[20],[21] Dubois et al. support this position, because in their review of 834,328 drivers who were involved in a fatal crashes between 1991 and 2008, they found that a driver with positivity for alcohol and cannabis had greater odds of making an error than a driver who had just one or the other substance (alcohol or cannabis) in their bloodstream.[22] Jordan et al. demonstrated that 10% of their trauma population that was screened tested positive for marijuana.[1] This number rose to 16.5% in those with a BAC >0.10%, thereby highlighting the need for prospective studies, especially in this period of marijuana legalization in order to clinically and socially intervene more effectively. However, there are reports that dispute such assertions.[23]

The importance of these findings has several important ramifications. First, all trauma victims should be screened for alcohol and other substances (not just one category or the “other”), and that protocols should be put into place to facilitate such an action. Second, the screening for polysubstance use is important to the care of such patients, thereby allowing a more targeted approach to interventions in the hospital and posthospital course of treatment. Third, given that over 60% of opioid users leaving traditional rehabilitation programs relapse within 5 weeks,[24] with many of them returning to US roadways, the trauma setting may offer an opportunity for substance use disorder interventions. Prior efforts in emergency department-based interventions have been promising,[25] and future studies may find a higher yield in targeting patients presenting with a BAC >0.10% for substance use disorder-based interventions.

This report has limitations as noted by the authors; the study is small and retrospective and involves only one institution. There were also inconsistencies in the approach by the providers treating patients suspected of alcohol intoxication and/or other drug use. Clearly, the data set used by the authors has some selection bias. Nonetheless, the information presented by Jordan et al. enlightens us as to the challenges facing medical, public health, and political institution in the near and intermediate terms.

It will be important over the next decade to closely observe the use of alcohol and other SOA, especially heroin and other opioids, so that lessons learned in the treatment of addiction can be applied to the burgeoning opioid overdose epidemic. Furthermore, marijuana, because of its increasingly legal and socially acceptable status, may offer the opportunity for unique health interventions and even potentially necessitating changes to laws in order to lower the legal level of alcohol while driving when also using marijuana.[26] We encourage our colleagues to pursue avenues of research, innovative solutions, and vigilance in the care of their trauma patients who use alcohol and other SOA.

   References Top

Jordan A, Wojda TR, Cohen MS, Hasani A, Luster J, Seoane J, et al. Exploring the association between initial serum blood alcohol concentration and polysubstance use: More than a simple “gateway drug” effect? International Journal of Critical Illness and Injury Science 2018;8:201-6.   Back to cited text no. 1
Alcohol Policy Information System. Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits Adult Operators of Noncommercial Motor Vehicles-Policy Description 2016; 2017. Available from: https://www.alcoholpolicy.niaaa.nih.gov/apis-policy-topics/adult-operators-of-noncommercial-motor-vehicles/12. [Last accessed on 2017 Sep 24].  Back to cited text no. 2
US Legal. Intoxication Law and Legal Definition; 10 June, 2018. Available from: https://www.definitions.uslegal.com/i/intoxication/. [Last accessed on 2018 Dec 12].  Back to cited text no. 3
Dinh-Zarr T, Goss C, Heitman E, Roberts I, DiGuiseppi C. Interventions for preventing injuries in problem drinkers. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2004;3:CD001857.  Back to cited text no. 4
Eriksen TR, Shumba L, Ekeberg O, Bogstrand ST. The association between hospital admission and substance use among trauma patients. J Subst Use 2018;23:79-85. [Doi: 10.1080/14659891.2017.1348557].  Back to cited text no. 5
Grant BF, Chou SP, Saha TD, Pickering RP, Kerridge BT, Ruan WJ, et al. Prevalence of 12-month alcohol use, high-risk drinking, and DSM-IV alcohol use disorder in the United States, 2001-2002 to 2012-2013: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. JAMA Psychiatry 2017;74:911-23.  Back to cited text no. 6
Hingson RW, Zha W, White AM. Drinking beyond the binge threshold: Predictors, consequences, and changes in the U.S. Am J Prev Med 2017;52:717-27.  Back to cited text no. 7
Gjerde H, Normann PT, Christophersen AS, Samuelsen SO, Mørland J. Alcohol, psychoactive drugs and fatal road traffic accidents in Norway: A case-control study. Accid Anal Prev 2011;43:1197-203.  Back to cited text no. 8
Soderstrom CA, Dischinger PC, Kerns TJ, Kufera JA, Mitchell KA, Scalea TM, et al. Epidemic increases in cocaine and opiate use by trauma center patients: Documentation with a large clinical toxicology database. J Trauma 2001;51:557-64.  Back to cited text no. 9
Alambyan V, Pace J, Miller B, Cohen ML, Gokhale S, Singh G, et al. The emerging role of inhaled heroin in the opioid epidemic: A review. JAMA Neurol 2018;75:1423-34.  Back to cited text no. 10
Ahmad FB, Rossen LM, Spencer MR, Warner M, Sutton P. Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts. National Center for Health Statistics; 2018. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm. [Last accessed on 2018 Dec 12].  Back to cited text no. 11
Chihuri S, Li G. Use of prescription opioids and motor vehicle crashes: A meta analysis. Accid Anal Prev 2017;109:123-31.  Back to cited text no. 12
Assari S, Moghani Lankarani M, Dejman M, Farnia M, Alasvand R, Sehat M, et al. Drug use among Iranian drivers involved in fatal car accidents. Front Psychiatry 2014;5:69.  Back to cited text no. 13
Bunn T, Singleton M, Chen IC. Use of multiple data sources to identify specific drugs and other factors associated with drug and alcohol screening of fatally injured motor vehicle drivers. Accid Anal Prev 2019;122:287-94.  Back to cited text no. 14
Steinemann S, Galanis D, Nguyen T, Biffl W. Motor vehicle crash fatalaties and undercompensated care associated with legalization of marijuana. J Trauma Acute Care Surg 2018;85:566-71.  Back to cited text no. 15
Sokoya M, Eagles J, Okland T, Coughlin D, Dauber H, Greenlee C, et al. Patterns of facial trauma before and after legalization of marijuana in Denver, Colorado: A joint study between two Denver hospitals. Am J Emerg Med 2018;36:780-3.  Back to cited text no. 16
Nunes EV, Gordon M, Friedmann PD, Fishman MJ, Lee JD, Chen DT, et al. Relapse to opioid use disorder after inpatient treatment: Protective effect of injection naltrexone. J Subst Abuse Treat 2018;85:49-55.  Back to cited text no. 17
D'Onofrio G, O'Connor PG, Pantalon MV, Chawarski MC, Busch SH, Owens PH, et al. Emergency department-initiated buprenorphine/naloxone treatment for opioid dependence: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA 2015;313:1636-44.  Back to cited text no. 18
Kim HS, Hall KE, Genco EK, Van Dyke M, Barker E, Monte AA, et al. Marijuana tourism and emergency department visits in Colorado. N Engl J Med 2016;374:797-8.  Back to cited text no. 19
Wang GS, Hall K, Vigil D, Banerji S, Monte A, VanDyke M, et al. Marijuana and acute health care contacts in Colorado. Prev Med 2017;104:24-30.  Back to cited text no. 20
Wang GS, Roosevelt G, Le Lait MC, Martinez EM, Bucher-Bartelson B, Bronstein AC, et al. Association of unintentional pediatric exposures with decriminalization of marijuana in the United States. Ann Emerg Med 2014;63:684-9.  Back to cited text no. 21
Dubois S, Mullen N, Weaver B, Bédard M. The combined effects of alcohol and cannabis on driving: Impact on crash risk. Forensic Sci Int 2015;248:94-100.  Back to cited text no. 22
Rogeberg O. A meta-analysis of the crash risk of cannabis-positive drivers in culpability studies-avoiding interpretational bias. Accid Anal Prev 2018;123:69-78.  Back to cited text no. 23
Bell C, Slim J, Flaten HK, Lindberg G, Arek W, Monte AA, et al. Butane hash oil burns associated with marijuana liberalization in Colorado. J Med Toxicol 2015;11:422-5.  Back to cited text no. 24
Kim HS, Anderson JD, Saghafi O, Heard KJ, Monte AA. Cyclic vomiting presentations following marijuana liberalization in Colorado. Acad Emerg Med 2015;22:694-9.  Back to cited text no. 25
Romano E, Voas RB, Camp B. Cannabis and crash responsibility while driving below the alcohol per se legal limit. Accid Anal Prev 2017;108:37-43.  Back to cited text no. 26

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