Lead Poisoning in Opium‑Addicted Subjects, Its Correlation with Pyrimidine 5′‑Nucleotidase Activity and Liver Function Tests

Mandana Fakoor, Maryam Akhgari, Hamed Shafaroodi


Background: Lead may be added to the opium by drug smugglers. It can cause elevated blood lead level (BLL) in opium‑addicted patients. Erythrocyte pyrimidine 5′‑nucleotidase (P5N) activity is susceptible to high BLL. The aim of this study was to fnd out whether opium‑addicted patients
show erythropathy and elevated liver enzymes explainable by high BLL and decreased P5N activity.

Methods: Forty orally opium‑addicted subjects and 40 normal healthy volunteers were enrolled in this study. BLL was measured in whole blood specimens using atomic absorption spectrometry instrumentation. Enzymatic activity, protein amount of P5N, and erythrocyte purine/pyrimidine ratio were determined. Blood flms were analyzed for the presence of basophilic stippling of red cells and hemolytic anemia. The level of liver function enzymes was measured.

Results: The mean BLL for opium‑addicted patients was signifcantly higher than control group (P < 0.001). On the contrary, P5N activity showed a valid decrease in opium‑addicted patients when compared with control group (P < 0.001). In line with repressed P5N activity, erythrocyte purine/pyrimidine ratio in patients was lower than control group (P < 0.001). A statistically signifcant reverse correlation was found between BLL and P5N activity (P < 0.05, r = -0.85). The prevalence of both basophilic stippling (P < 0.001, z = 6.62) and hemolytic anemia (P < 0.001, z = 6.52) in study population was signifcantly associated with elevated BLL. We could not fnd any signifcant correlation between serum level of liver enzymes and BLL.

Conclusions: Opium‑addicted patients in Tehran, Iran, are at
high risk of lead poisoning which may result in hematologic problems and possibly hepatic damage.

Keywords: Anemia, lead poisoning, liver function tests, opium, pyrimidine 5′‑nucleotidase

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