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NSW Health Alert: Lead-Contaminated Opium

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NSW Health Alert: Lead-Contaminated Opium

Information for General Practitioners, Drug and Alcohol Clinicians and Emergency Departments:

  1. NSW Health recommends blood lead level screening for any patient suspected of ingesting or inhaling illicit opium products at any point since early 2016
  2. There have been cases of severe lead poisoning in NSW and Victoria believed to result from the use of illicit opium products contaminated with lead
  3. Lead poisoning can be difficult to diagnose, and should be considered in patients that have abdominal pain, constipation and anaemia of unexplained origin

Background

There have been a small number of case reports of significant lead blood levels in excess of 100μg/dL in New South Wales and Victoria that are believed to be a result of lead-contaminated opium products. Opium is a dried material extracted from the opium poppy but unlike other products has not undergone further chemical processing and refinement.
These cases have all occurred in people of Iranian background, and it is likely the product has been imported from the Islamic Republic of Iran where there has been an outbreak of lead poisoning from opium since early 2016.

Read full health alert from NSW Health