July 2, 1982

Did He Take Something? What Does the Lab Result Mean?

JAMA. 1982;248(1):83. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330010057033

A drug may be defined as any chemical that produces an effect when administered to a living organism. As such, there are thousands of substances that can be called drugs. Drug abuse may be defined as use of a drug in a manner that may predictably cause harm. This definition deliberately opposes older and more traditional definitions of drug abuse, since most drug abuse is legal or within existing medical practice. The number of drugs that can be abused is legion since, as Bob Moser used to say, the modern physician's little black bag literally runneth over with various concoctions. One of the most frequent forms of drug abuse is overdose, which may occur with practically any drug.

It is a rare hospital emergency physician who does not encounter almost every day patients with known or suspected overdoses. What the physician would like to be able to do when faced