Concentrations of Scheduled Prescription Drugs in Blood of Impaired Drivers: Considerations for Interpreting the Results

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Abstract

Abstract:

We report the concentrations of scheduled prescription drugs in blood samples from people arrested in Sweden for driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). The investigation covered a 2 year period 2004 (N = 7052 cases) and 2005 (N = 7759 cases) and was prompted by recent legislation stipulating zero-concentration limits in blood for controlled substances. However, prescription drugs are exempt from the zero-limit law provided that the medication was being used in accordance with a doctor's prescription. The blood concentrations of various psychoactive substances were compared with the limits of quantitation of the analytic method used and the so-called therapeutic concentration range according to various reference books and tabulations. Diazepam [N = 1950 (26%)] and nordazepam [N = 2168 (28%)] were the therapeutic agents most frequently identified in these forensic blood samples along with other benzodiazepines such as alprazolam [N = 430 (5.6%)], flunitrazepam [N = 308 (4.0%)], and nitrazepam [N = 222 (2.9%)]. The newer hypnotics, exemplified by zolpidem [N = 148 (1.9%)] and zopiclone [N = 111 (1.5%)], were also high on the list of psychoactive substances identified. Interpreting the concentration of a prescription drug in blood in relation to whether the person had taken an overdose or was abusing the substance in question is not always easy. The age, gender, degree of obesity, and ethnicity of the person concerned; the pharmacokinetic profile of the drug; polymorphism of drug-metabolizing enzymes as well as liver and kidney function and blood hematocrit need to be considered. Among preanalytic factors, stability of the drug in blood after sampling, the type of tubes and preservatives used, the dosage form and route of administration deserve consideration. When therapeutic drug monitoring concentrations are compared with forensic toxicology results, then the plasma-to-whole blood distribution ratio of the drug also needs to be considered. In blood samples from DUID suspects, the concentrations of many commonly used sedatives and hypnotics exceeded the accepted therapeutic limits, which gives an indication of the abuse potential of these types of medications.

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