Interpretation of the Presence of 6-Monoacetylmorphine in the Absence of Morphine-3-glucuronide in Urine Samples: Evidence of Heroin Abuse

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The presence of morphine in a urinary sample may be caused not only by intake of heroin but also by intake of poppy-seed-containing food shortly before urine sampling or intake of drugs containing morphine, ethyl morphine, or codeine. To facilitate the interpretation, the heroin-specific metabolite 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) can be analyzed along with morphine-3-glucuronide (M3G) in an LC-MS verification analysis. In sporadic samples positive in the immunologic opiate screening test, 6-MAM, but not M3G, was found. To systematically analyze the finding all specimens with positive 6-MAM and/or M3G found during a 1-year period were investigated (n = 1923). Of these, 423 were positive for 6-MAM. In 32 (7.6%) of the samples 6-MAM was detected while the M3G concentrations were below cutoff (300 ng/mL) and in some cases even below the limit of detection (15 ng/mL). The 32 samples with this excretion pattern came from 13 different individuals, all but one with previously known heroin abuse. Eleven urine samples, nine containing M3G and 6-MAM and two with only 6-MAM, were also analyzed for the presence of heroin. In six samples, including the two with only 6-MAM, heroin was detected. There are several plausible explanations for these findings. The intake may have taken place shortly before urine sampling. High concentrations of heroin and 6-MAM may inhibit UGT 2B7, the enzyme responsible for glucuronidation of morphine. The hydrolyzation of 6-MAM to morphine may be disturbed by either internal or external causes. To elucidate this, further studies are required. Nevertheless, our finding demonstrates that routine measurement of 6-MAM when verifying opioid-positive immunologic screening results facilitates interpretation of low concentrations of M3G in urine specimens.

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