Additive Effects of Cointoxicants in Single-Opioid Induced Deaths

Academic Article


  • A forensic drug database (FDD) was used to capture comprehensive data from all drug-related deaths in West Virginia, with deaths also included from the northern New England states of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. All four states serve predominantly rural populations under two million and all have similar state medical examiner systems that employ statewide uniform death certification policies and practices. This study focused on 1482 single opioid deaths (fentanyl, hydrocodone, methadone, and oxycodone) in the FDD from 2007-2011. We modeled relationships between the opioid concentrations and the presence or absence of the following commonly occurring non-opioid cointoxicants: benzodiazepines (alprazolam and diazepam), alcohol, tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and diphenhydramine. Additional covariates of state, age, body mass index, and sex were included. Results showed that the presence of alcohol, benzodiazepines, and antidepressants were each associated with statistically significant lower concentrations of some but not all of the opioids studied, which may obscure the interpretation of postmortem toxicology results alone. Fentanyl concentrations appeared to be the least associated with the presence or absence of the variables studied, and cointoxicant alcohol appeared to be associated with lower concentrations in opioid concentrations than were most of the other factors in the model studied. These findings underscore the importance of documenting all potential cointoxicants in opioid-related deaths.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Sorg MH; Long DL; Abate MA; Kaplan JA; Kraner JC; Greenwald MS; Andrew TA; Shapiro SL; Wren JA
  • Start Page

  • 532
  • End Page

  • 542
  • Volume

  • 6
  • Issue

  • 3