Student Research: Brent Thomas Burton

, , 1992
Faculty Advisor: David A Kalman

Blood Lead Levels Among Intravenous Drug Abusers and Lead and Mercury Levels in Illicit Methamphetamine Samples in Oregon


Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant drug commonly known on the street as crank, speed, ice, crystal or crystal meth. It is currently a popular and widespread amphetamine derivative that is illegally manufactured, distributed and abused, primarily in the Western United States.

Pharmaceutical amphetamines are difficult to obtain for illegal use. Therefore most illicit methamphetamine is produced in clandestine laboratories. Law enforcement officials report that during the past decade ninety-five percent of all clandestine drug lab seizures have involved methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine, like most street drugs, is typically not a pure substance. Some studies have shown average concentrations of methamphetamine street samples to be approximately 40-50 percent. The bulk of non-drug substances found in illicit drugs such as lactose, dextrose, sucrose, procaine, caffeine, quinine and sodium bicarbonate, are intentionally added by the distributor to dilute or cut the product to increase profits. These substances, may account for up to 94 percent of the finished product and are generally not pharmacologically significant or responsible for serious drug toxicity. In contrast to substances intentionally added to the drug, impure drugs may also occur through unintentional contamination with toxic un-reacted substances or unintended reaction products. While it is known that unintended contaminants are likely to remain in the finished drug as manufactured by the clandestine chemist, the extent and types of such substances have not yet been adequately identified, quantified or evaluated for toxicity.

This study was an attempt to evaluate illicit methamphetamine samples for lead and mercury contamination to determine the concentration of these substances and the potential risk of poisoning from intravenous abuse. In addition, drug abusers presenting to the emergency department at an urban hospital were evaluated for potential elevated blood lead levels due to intravenous use of contaminate methamphetamine.