Volume 44, Issue 2 (March 1999)
Methamphetamine-Related Deaths in San Francisco: Demographic, Pathologic, and Toxicologic Profiles
A study was undertaken to develop demographic, toxicologic, and pathological profiles of methamphetamine-related deaths. Anatomic and toxicologic findings in 413 deaths where methamphetamine was detected were compared with findings in a control group of 114 drug-free trauma victims. The number of cases per year did not change significantly over the course of the study. Mean age was 36.8 years, but 11% were over the age of 50. Decedents were overwhelmingly male (85.2%) and Caucasian (75%). Blood concentrations of methamphetamine and amphetamine were indistinguishable in cases where methamphetamine was related to the cause of death (MR) and cases where it was not (non-MR) (2.08 vs. 1.78 mg/L, p = 0.65, and 0.217 vs. 0.19 mg/L, p = 0.82). Coronary artery disease, ranging from minimal to severe multivessel, was identified in 79 of the 413 drug users, but in only six of the 114 drug-free controls (p = 0.0004), and MR decedents had enlarged hearts compared with controls. There were also ten cases of subarachnoid and intracranial hemorrhage in the MR group. Abnormalities of the liver (34%) and lungs (24.7%) were frequent. In 65% of these cases, death was due to accidental methamphetamine toxicity. In the remaining cases, methamphetamine was an incidental finding. We conclude that, in our jurisdiction, neither the rate of detection nor the number of methamphetamine deaths has increased significantly in the past 13 years. Decedents are almost all Caucasian males, and many were approaching middle-age. Methamphetamine use is strongly associated with coronary artery disease and with subarachnoid hemorrhage.