“The things we hate about ourselves aren't more real than things we like about ourselves.” Ellen Goodman

Monday, January 8, 2018

Atropine poisoning

 ABC News
Here's a recent news item about a bunch of idiots in Perth, Australia who snorted hyoscine instead of the cocaine they thought it was. Major fail!

They found themselves in the emergency room exhibiting classical features of the atropine toxidrome - mad as Max, hot as a pot, dry as Mars, red as Sonja, and blind as Dare Devil.

Once a diagnosis is made, treatment is quite simple. Apart from respiratory support, overcome the atropine effects by administering physostigmine, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor.

Here are short videos on :
cholinergic neurotransmission


There was a time in Pharmacology, when acetylcholine was very topical, as were the effects of atropine. We studied the over-atropinization toxidrome by memorizing the idioms found in almost every textbookof Pharmacology : Hot as a hare, mad as a hatter, red as a beet, dry as a bone, blind as a bat..... I must confess these idioms didn't mean much to me as a student in Singapore. I just couldn't identify with them. Hot as a hare?? Mad as a hatter?? But memorize them we did, and made it through the exams.

Here is my contemporay remake of the idioms! Hot as a (hot) pot, Mad as (Mad) Max, Red as (Red) Sonja, Dry as (Mars), Blind as Dare Devil.

We don't see much over-atropinization nowadays, but it's worth remembering the toxidrome.

For completeness sake, the full toxidrome looks something like this:
Dilated pupils
Dry mouth
Drunken gait
Dry, hot skin

Monday, August 7, 2017

Estimation of blood alcohol concentration (BAC)

A case was presented of a young man who engaged in a bout of binge drinking.

"A.M., 22 year old Indian student of a private college, received news that his childhood sweetheart wanted to end their relationship.
In a fit of depression, he bought a bottle of vodka, retreated to his hostel room, and sometime between 8pm to midnight he ingested about two thirds of a bottle (1L) of vodka. His room-mate who was out had spoken to him over the phone at 1130pm and had found him incoherent. When he arrived back to the hostel at 0045am, he found A.M. unconscious, and called for an ambulance."

The question is whether we can estimate the blood alcohol level when he was found. What do we know, and what assumptions can we make?

In this case, we may assume he consumed about 640mLs of vodka. The equivalent in terms of cans of beer can be found here, and is approximately 16.5 cans of beer. If we can make assumptions about his volume of distribution (body weight, BMI), and about the bioavailability (0.8), we can begin to estimate the possible maximum BAC, as well as the BAC at any time we are interested in, if consumption and absorption were relative rapid.

The interactive graph here allows you to visualize the BAC-time profile following binge drinking. 

The two models (mixed order, and zero order) estimates that at the time he was found, BAC might have been about 3.4 mg/mL and 2.7 mg/mL, respectively. Both these estimates are above the legal limit for driving and consistent with severe degree of intoxication (see Chart). From the plots we can also estimate when he was likely to rouse, and recover from the intoxication.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Back extrapolation of blood alcohol concentrations - a forensic exercise

A case was presented of an alleged rape of an woman intoxicated with alcohol. The question was how to back extrapolate from a measure blood sample taken a number of hours after the alleged rape to the time of the alleged rape. The case is reproduced here for discussion:

A 33 year old Chinese bar hostess (45kg, slim built), drank heavily from about 7pm on eve of public holiday. Began to feel sick, and drowsy at about 10pm. Vomited after last drink at about 11pm.

Some well meaning friends brought her to hotel room where she passed out.

At about 1am, the accused found her unconscious and took advantage of her.

She roused at about 1pm next day. Was able to collect her thoughts, inferred what had happened, called friends, and reported to police at about 4pm when blood sample for alcohol was obtained. Sample was 0.4mg/mL.

The simplest method is to assume that alcohol elimination follows zero order kinetics over the concentration range that are relevent here. The generally accepted 95% confidence interval for the beta-slope of elimination is 0.09 - 0.29 mg/mL per hour. Since the alleged rape occured 15 hours prior to the blood sample, the expected blood alcohol concentration (BAC) concentration at the time of the alleged rape will be approximately 0.4mg/mL + (15 hours x the beta slope). Therefore, depending on whether you apply the lower or higher boundaries of the 95% confidence interval, you will obtain BAC of either 0.4 + (15 x 0.09) or 0.4 + (15 x 0.29). The 95% confidence interval for the expected BAC at the time of the alleged rape would therefore be 1.75mg/mL to 4.75mg/mL. These are concentrations consistent with a fairly extreme level of intoxication and impairment of judgement.

The above is using a simple back-extrapolation method based on zero order alcohol kinetics. To try a graphical method of back extrapolation using a mixed zero to first order model, you can  go here

To view the correlation between BAC and cognitive degradation, please go here.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Ethanol elimination kinetics: a zero- to first order approach

Ethanol is primarily metabolized in the body by alcohol dehydrogenase to acetaldehyde. This is a very low Km reaction, so at most alcohol concentrations achieved after social drinking, it is very often assumed to obey a near zero order type of elimination kinetics.

In reality however, ethanol elimination kinetics, like every other drug follows a zero- to first order type of elimination profile. The above concentration-time curve illustrates the elimination kinetics from very high to very low ethanol concentrations.

During the zero order phase, there is a relatively fixed rate of ethanol elimination (NB. not elimination rate constant), but becomes clearly exponential at much lower concentrations. 

All this might be merely of academic interest if not for the fact that ethanol concentrations are very often back-extrapolated to a prior time (e.g. time of an accident or assault) because of forensic investigations. If the wrong model is used, the back-extrapolation can be quite erroneous.

Most often the back-extrapolations have been simplistically done assuming a zero order model, applying a fixed rate of elimination. We can see from the plot below, that the use of a zero order model, when the measured concentration is relatively low (less than 0.1 mg/mL) can lead to significant over-estimates of a prior concentration.