UMEM Educational Pearls - Toxicology

Category: Toxicology

Title: Intranasal Naloxone

Keywords: naloxone, intranasal (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/10/2009 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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When IV access is not immediately available and you don’t want to rely on the erratic absorption of IM administration, naloxone can be given by the intranasal (IN) route.
Kinetics are similar to IV: Onset 1-2 minutes, duration 40-50 minutes.
Dose is the same as IV: Up to 1 mL (0.4 mg) can be given in each nostril.
Advantage of needleless administration.
To use: Draw up dose of nalxone and simply add an atomizer to the end of a syringe (see picture).  Administer half of final dose in each nostril.
Atomizers are now available in the UMMC ED.


MADnasal.jpg (64 Kb)

Category: Toxicology

Title: Incretin-based therapy

Keywords: Diabetes; incretin; dipeptidyl peptidase; dpp (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/3/2009 by Ellen Lemkin, MD, PharmD
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NEW TREATMENT in diabetes

It was discovered that glucose given ORALLY caused more insulin release than glucose administered INTRAVENOUSLY. This led to the discovery of the incretin hormones, which are secreted by the gut (INtestinal SECRETion of INsulin), GIP and GLP-1.

The incretin-based therapies increase levels of GLP-1, either by providing an incretin mimetic (exenatide and liraglutide), or by inhibiting their breakdown by DPP-4 (sitagliptin, saxagliptin, vilagliptin)

Their administration results in:

  • Stimulation of glucose dependent insulin secretion
  • Suppression of glucagon secretion
  • Slowing of gastric emptying
  • Improvement if b-cell functioning


  • Improved glycemic control
  • Decrease in A1C
  • Mild weight loss
  • Mild decrease in BP


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The newest antidote for cyanide poisoning, hydroxocobalamin, has several advantages over the older Cyanide Antidote Kit (amyl nitrite, sodium nitrite, sodium thiosulfate).  Hydroxocobalamin works rapidly, does not induce methemoglobinemia, and does not cause vasodilation/hypotension.

Two noteworthy adverse effects were noted in human volunteer studies:
  • The first is self-limiting hypertension. However, think about the patient population you are treating.  They are most likely hypotensive from the cyanide/carbon monoxide poisoning.  Increased blood pressure is a welcome adverse effect in these cases.
  • The second is red discoloration of the skin and urine, secondary to the red color of hydroxocobalamin (see attached picture).  This effect can be quite pronounced, especially if you aren’t prepared for it. There is no harm to the patient although it can last up to 8 days.
Bottom line: Adverse effects occur with hydroxocobalamin administration but are not anything to be concerned about, especially considering the toxin you are treating.

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Category: Toxicology

Title: Mysterious Poisoning

Keywords: sodium azide (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/29/2009 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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 Toxicology Expert: Poisoning Of Harvard University Scientists "No Accident"

  • 6 scientists in a Boston area lab drank coffee that was laced with sodium azide
  • Presented with hypotension, nausea and vomiting - one had a syncopal episode
  • Sodium Azide is a chemical compound (NaN3) that is used as a preservative at very low concentrations but in higher concentrations can be lethal. It is even found in the propellant that is found in automobile airbag mechanisms
  • It acts similiar to cyanide where it inhibits cytochrome oxidase and presents like a cyanide poisoning.
  • No antidote, cyanide antidote kit will not work

Category: Toxicology

Title: Relenza for the treatment of Tamiflu-resistant influenza

Keywords: Relenza, zanamivir, influenza, H1N1 (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/22/2009 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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Zanamivir (Relenza) is another neuraminidase inhibitor effective against influenza strains A and B. We are currently reserving its use for patients with H1N1 that may develop resistance to oseltamivir (Tamiflu) since it has been effective in these situations with past influenza strains.

  • Zanamivir is given by inhalation only (powder) and can therefore not be given to ventilated patients
  • Treatment dose is 10 mg (two blister packs) BID for 5 days
  • Prophylaxis is 10 mg (two blister packs) once daily for 10 days
  • Most common adverse effects are respiratory related and include bronchospasm and cough
  • Pregnancy category C (same as Tamiflu) and should be used in pregnant patients with suspected/confirmed H1N1 due to the increased risk of morbidity/mortality
    • In fact, zanamivir may be the preferable antiviral for pregnant women because of its limited systemic absorption

Category: Toxicology

Title: Buprenorphine

Keywords: partial agonist, buprenorphine (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/15/2009 by Fermin Barrueto, MD
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This is a semi-synthetic opiate with partial agonist activity at the mu receptor. For an example of what a partial agonist is - see attached illustration. It is used in opioid addiction but is not as regulated as methadone clinics. Take a small course and you are licensed to prescribed it.  Primary caregivers are now able to administer buprenorphine to assist addicts though it is not recommended if the patient is requiring more than 40mg of methadone (rules out everyone in Baltimore).

The tablets (Suboxone) also contain naloxone to prevent intravenous injection which would induce withdrawal. Naloxone is not orally bioavailable and thus can be mixed into the pill.

Overdose is treated like any other opioid and naloxone should work.

Buprenorphine can illicit an opioid withdrawal response if the patient is currently on an opioid and then takes buprenorphine. 

Suppose to be safer than methadone - no QT prolongation and less respiratory depression


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Category: Toxicology

Title: Haloperidol use in sympathomimetic poisoning

Keywords: haloperidol, cocaine, amphetamine, sympathomimetic (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/8/2009 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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A 34 y/o m presents to the ED agitated and combative with the following vitals signs: T 104.6, P 136, BP 198/124. His urine toxicology screen is positive for amphetamines. 

What do you give for sedation? Benzos, benzos, benzos…. On the rare occasion when benzodiazepines fail to achieve an adequate level of sedation, either a rapidly acting barbiturate or propofol should be administered.
Why not haloperidol (Haldol)?
  • Controlled animal experience clearly contraindicates the use of phenothiazines (e.g. prochlorperazine, chlorpromazine) and butyrophenones (e.g. haloperidol, droperidol).
  • In animal models, these drugs enhance toxicity (seizures) or lethality, or both.
  • Additional concerns regarding these drugs include their ability to interfere with heat dissipation, exacerbate tachycardia, prolong the QTc interval, and induce torsades de pointes, or precipitate dystonic reactions.
Therefore, although somewhat controversial, haloperidol should be avoided in acute intoxication from cocaine, amphetamines, or other sympathomimetics.

Category: Toxicology

Title: Aripiprazole - All you need to know

Keywords: atypical antipsychotic, aripiprazole (PubMed Search)

Posted: 9/24/2009 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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Aripiprazole (Abilify): a new atypical antipsychotic partially agonizes D2 and serotonin receptors though its compelte mechanism is not known. Used in schizophrenia, in overdose you may see the following symptoms (from a retrospective study done over 4 years worth of calls to a PCC):

  • Somnolence 89 (56%)
  • Tachycardia 32 (20%, heart rate 102-186)
  • Nausea/vomiting 29 (18%)
  • Dystonic reactions 21 (13%)

The study was with over 255 patients. Though QT prolongation is listed, it is not common with this medication.


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Category: Toxicology

Title: Alcohol content of hand sanitizer

Keywords: hand sanitizer, ethanol, alcohol (PubMed Search)

Posted: 9/10/2009 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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     Most hand sanitizers contain ethanol, while some contain isopropyl alcohol. The concentration of alcohol in these products varies from 45% to 95%, with the most commonly used products containing 62%.  How much would a 15 kg child have to ingest to obtain a blood alcohol concentration of 100 mg/dL (or 0.1%)?

     Assuming a volume of distribution of 0.6 L/kg and 100% bioavailability, only 15-20 mL is required to produce this toxic level.  That is equivalent to 3-4 teaspoons or approximately 8-10 “squirts” of hand sanitizer!

Iron Toxicity Treatment
Out In
Checking TIBC to determine if treatment is necessary Checking iron levels...If peak is > 500 mcg/dl, or the patient shows signs of systemic toxicity, treat with deferoxamine
Deferoxamine challenge... no longer recommended! Using WBI for ingestion of 20 mg/kg iron, if visible iron pills on x-ray, or symptoms of mild toxicity (for treatment of severe toxicity see above)
Platform shoes Strappy sandals

WBI: whole bowel irrigation

Reminder from Poisondex:

OVERDOSE: SEVERE: Stupor, shock, acidosis, GI bleed, coagulopathy, hepatotoxicity, and coma. MILD/MODERATE: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, leukocytosis, and hyperglycemia. Clinical phases: (1) 0-2 hours: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Lethargy, shock, GI bleeding, and acidosis if severe; (2) Apparent recovery; (3) 2-12 hours: Acidosis, hypotension; (4) 2-4 days: Hepatotoxicity; (5) days-weeks: GI strictures.

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 Valproic Acid (Depakote)

  • Can cause carnitine deficiency
  • In overdose and therapeutic ingestions can cause hepatic enzyme elevation (idiosyncratic) but can also cause hyperammonemia without hepatic enyme elevation
  • Have a patient with somnolence or altered mental status and is on valproic acid - check a level but also check an ammonia level
  • Elevated ammonia levels can be treated with an antidote - carnitine (IV or PO)
  • Very safe antidote (carnitine) since it is a nutritional supplement, consider in patients on valproic acid and decreased responsivness with elevated ammonia

Category: Toxicology

Title: Priapism - Drugs that Cause It

Keywords: priapism, yohimine, trazadone (PubMed Search)

Posted: 8/20/2009 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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Priapism - prolonged involuntary erection - is an adverse effect with some drugs. Here is a list of the more commonly reported:

  • Androgens
  • Anticoagulants
  • Antihypertensives: Hydralazaine, labetolol, phentolamine, prazosin
  • Antipsychotics
  • Cantharidin
  • Cocaine
  • Diazepam
  • Marijuana
  • Sildenafil
  • Trazadone
  • Yohimbine

Category: Toxicology

Title: Acute Withdrawal of Prostacylcin Analogues for Pulmonary Hypertension

Keywords: treprostinil, epoprostenol, pulmonary hypertension (PubMed Search)

Posted: 8/12/2009 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Emailed: 8/13/2009) (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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One of the treatment options for NYHA class III and IV pulmonary hypertension is prostanoids.  All of the prostanoid formulations have the limitations of a short half-life and a heterogeneous response to therapy.  Because the drugs need to be given by continuous infusion, patients may present to the ED due to pump failure.  Sudden cardiopulmonary collapse can occur with infusion interruption.  Here are some important points to remember regarding kinetics:

  • Intravenous epoprostenol (Flolan®) has an extremely short half-life (2–3 min) and lacks stability at room temperature.  Interruption of the pump for even a short period can have drastic consequences.
  • Treprostinil (Remodulin®) has theoretical advantages over epoprostenol because of its stability at room temperature, an elimination half-life of 4-6 hours (subcutaneous), and its ability to be administered by continuous subcutaneous infusion.

Category: Toxicology

Title: Vicks VapoRub Toxicity

Keywords: Menthol, camphor, vicks, seizure (PubMed Search)

Posted: 8/6/2009 by Ellen Lemkin, MD, PharmD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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Vicks VapoRub Toxicity

With the removal of OTC product indications for children under the age of 2 for cough and colds, more parents are turning to other agents such as Vicks VapoRub for the relief of cough and cold symptoms. Unfortunately these agents are also associated with toxicities and the potential exists for an increased number of poisonings. The primary components of these agents are:

  • Camphor
  • Eucalyptus Oil
  • Menthol

Menthol is used to relieve symptoms of chest congestion. There is NO data to support efficacy, and paradoxically, studies have indicated increased airflow resistance with application. There is a case report of an 18 month old who developed respiratory distress after application. Symptoms associated with overdose, or inappropriate route (mucosal, oral) are:

  • Aspiration
  • Apnea
  • Laryngoconstriction
  • Nausea
  • Ataxia
  • Cardiac and CNS toxicity (confusion, euphoria)

Camphor in products with higher concentrations such as Campho-phenique can cause additional toxicity with effects:

  • GI symptoms
  • CNS: confusion, hallucinations, excitation, coma, seizures
  • Apnea
  • Asystole

Treatment for both is supportive.

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Category: Toxicology

Title: Lidocaine Toxicity - Continued

Keywords: lidocaine (PubMed Search)

Posted: 7/30/2009 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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To feed of off Dr. Liferidge's last pearl - a few more points relevant to your Emergency Department practice:

  • Lidocaine toxicity ranges between 5-7mg/kg
  • Typical vial used for suture repair is 10cc of 1% lidocaine. 
  • 1% = (1g/100cc) thus 100mg lidocaine in one vial
  • 70 kg x 5mg/kg = 350 mg typical adult toxic dose (3+vials)
  • 10 kg x 5mg/kg = 50 mg peds toxic dose (<1vial)
  • Case reports of viscous lidocaine (4%) causing seizures. Very classically in pediatric cases. Cause is from oral transmucosal absorption, bypassing the large first pass effect if absorbed from the stomach.
  • Classic symptoms are termed "feeling drunk" progressing to seizure. Shortly after CNS effect can have suppression of intrinsic pacemaker leading to sinus arrest, AV block, hypotension and death

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Category: Toxicology

Title: Ciguatera - A Cool Toxin

Keywords: ciguatera toxin, marine toxin (PubMed Search)

Posted: 7/23/2009 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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  • Heat resistant toxin found in fish, thus cooking doesn't protect you
  • Found in over 400 species of fish but bioaccumulates in fish so predator tropical reef fish have higher concentration: grouper, barrucuda, snapper, parrotfish
  • Found in tropical areas (See attached map for hot bed locations - in case you vacation there)
  • Clinical Findings: Very neat hot-cold reversal where you place you hand in bucket of ice water and it feels like it is burning and visa versa, GI symptoms, paresthesias, ataxia and even hallucinations (very cool)
  • Treatment: attempts with mannitol and gabapentin are reasonable and safe but completely unproven. Supportive care


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Category: Toxicology

Title: Lidocaine toxicity from nebulized solution

Keywords: lidocaine, nebulized (PubMed Search)

Posted: 7/9/2009 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
Click here to contact Bryan Hayes, PharmD

One of the options in our armamentarium prior to inserting an NG tube or performing a non-emergent nasotracheal intubation is nebulized lidocaine. However, the total dose is always a concern with this anesthetic agent before we have to worry about toxicity such as lightheadedness, tremors, hallucinations, seizures, and cardiac arrest. Here are some points to remember:

  • Maximum IV dose is 3 mg/kg when used as an antiarryhthmic in ACLS.
  • Maximum subcutaneous/intradermal dose is 4.5 mg/kg. When used in combination with epinephrine, this value is increased to 7 mg/kg.
  • One study evaluated lidocaine plasma levels after nebulized administration and found that a dose of 400 mg (5.7 mg/kg in a 70 kg patient) produced a peak of 1.1 mcg/ml, far below the 5 mcg/ml level associated with toxicity.
  • Application to real-life: Using 4% topical lidocaine in a 5-mL nebulizer will give a total dose of 200 mg. This is within the range of safe, studied doses, and will provide the anesthetic effect you (and the patient) desires.

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Category: Toxicology

Title: Clinical Findings and Sedative-Hypnotics

Keywords: barbiturates, meprobamate, bromides, propofol (PubMed Search)

Posted: 7/2/2009 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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The followings is a list of unique clinical findings related to a certain sedative-hypnotic overdose:

1) Hypothermia:Barbiturates, bromides, ethchlorvynol (others but these more pronounced)

2) Unique odors: chloral hydrate, ethchlorvynol (which is Placidyl)

3) Bradycardia: GHB (again others but pronounced in this OD)

4) Tachydysrhythmias: chloral hydrate

5) Muscular twitching: GHB, methaqualone, etomidate

6) Discolored urine: propofol (green/pink)



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Category: Toxicology

Title: Toxin Induced Status Epilepticus

Keywords: isoniazid, sulfonylureas, tetramine, bupropion (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/26/2009 by Fermin Barrueto, MD
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A patient presents to the University of MD ED in generalized convulsive status epilepticus. Continuous seizure activity that is not stopped by any dose of benzodiazepine [This is actually a very rare entity]. What is your next move?

- Check your basics: Fingerstick blood glucose (hypoglycemics can cause SE)

- Phenytoin is not going to work fast enough, the clock is ticking and the patient's brain cannot handle continuous status epilepticus, after 45-60min permanent neurologic sequelae or death will occur. If the cause is toxin induced, it just won't work.

- In an area where HIV is endemic, you have to consider Isoniazid - an antituberculous drug - and administer antidotal therapy: empiric dosing of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 5g IV. It is the only thing that will work.

- From the ED perspective, you will also be using a barbituate though there is evidence to support the use of propofol (after intubation for both). This will hopefully stop the seizure

- General anesthesia is the last chance if all else fails.


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Category: Toxicology

Title: High Lithium Level

Keywords: lithium, heparin (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/19/2009 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 5/28/2023)
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You have a patient that is on lithium and a serum concentration is checked: 4.3 mmol/l

Therapeutic range is between 0.5 and 1.5 mmol/l

The patient shows no symptoms - is that possible? what do you do?

Answer: highly unlikely that the patient would asymptomatic, at least nystagmus would be present. Remember the symptoms are cerebellar in nature. What may have happened is the blood was drawn in an inappropriate tube. There are green "Lithium Heparinized" tubes in our Emergency Department. They are typically used for cardiac enzymes. This has been a well reported source of error (1)





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