Clinical and Autopsy Characteristics of Fatal Methamphetamine Toxicity in Australia*

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Abstract

Characteristics of death attributed solely to methamphetamine toxicity (MT, n = 93) by forensic pathologists were examined and compared to cases of multiple drug toxicity (MDT, n = 634). The mean age of MT cases was 36.7 years, and 86.0% were male. Strenuous activity was reported in 12.9%. The most common witness observations were: collapse (60.3%), difficulty in breathing (36.2%), and hyperthermia (27.6%). MT cases had higher blood methamphetamine (0.54 vs. 0.11 mg/L) and amphetamine (0.04 vs. 0.02 mg/L) concentrations and lower likelihoods for opioids (12.5% vs. 80.9%), hypnosedatives (27.3 vs. 60.7%), antidepressants (14.8 vs. 29.8%), and antipsychotics (9.1 vs. 19.7%). MT cases had significantly heavier hearts than MDT cases (423.4 vs. 385.8 g) and were more likely to have cardiomegaly (37.1 vs. 20.4%) and replacement fibrosis (25.7 vs. 14.5%). The clinical picture was of a sudden cardiac event in a middle-aged man with a high methamphetamine concentration. Cardiovascular signs of heavy methamphetamine use are frequently seen.

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