Drug abuse and its consequences are major health problems in Middle-East countries such as Iran. Salesmen and smugglers may add lead to opium during the process of opium preparation to increase the weight of opium for more profit. Several reports have found lead poisoning symptoms in opium addicted patients and there are many nonspecific symptoms mimicking lead poisoning in opium addicted patients. As far as the literature review is concerned, there is no comparative study about blood lead level (BLL) in addicted patients with healthy controls. Therefore, it seems evaluation of blood lead level in opium addicted patients to be important.
In this study, the BLL of forty-four subjects in two patient and control groups was evaluated. The patient group (22 subjects) was comprised of patients who used oral opium. Control group (22 subjects) was matched with the patient group for age and sex, considering inclusion and exclusion criteria with a mean age of 38.8+/-6.7. For blood lead assay, 3 mL of whole blood was obtained from both groups by venipuncture and BLL was assessed immediately using an atomic absorption spectrophotometer.
The BLL in patient group had a range of 7.2 to 69.9 g/dL with a mean of 21.9+/-13.2. In the healthy control group, BLL was between 4.1 to 17.4 g/dL with a mean of 8.6+/-3.5. The mean difference of both groups (t=4.56) was statistically significant (P<0.0001). In the patient group, BLL had a significant correlation with the amount of opium ingested (r=0.65, P<0.01). However, there was no significant correlation with duration of opium ingestion in the patient group.
It would be concluded that opium addicts have an elevated BLL compared to healthy controls. Therefore, screening of blood lead concentration is helpful for opium addicted people especially with non-specific symptoms. In this regard, a similar investigation with a larger sample size of opium addicted patients (including both oral and inhaled) and a control group is suggested to confirm the findings of this research.