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December 17, 1960

Chronic Hepatic Dysfunction in Heroin Addicts: Possible Relation to Carrier State of Viral Hepatitis

Author Affiliations


From the William Pepper Laboratory of Clinical Medicine and the Gastro-Intestinal Section (Kinsey-Thomas Foundation) of the Medical Clinic of the Hospital and Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania.

JAMA. 1960;174(16):2049-2051. doi:10.1001/jama.1960.03030160035008

Liver function tests performed on 69 non-jaundiced heroin addicts showed one or more abnormal tests in 52. Only 7 of 43 non-addict control subjects had any abnormal tests. The thymol turbidity, isocitric dehydrogenase, zinc turbidity, and thymol flocculation were the most frequently abnormal tests in the addicts. Only 3 of 57 addicts who were interviewed gave a history of jaundice, although 14 admitted prior association with jaundiced addicts. None of the addicts had practiced adequate sterilization of their injection equipment, and most of them had shared equipment with other addicts. The etiology of this liver disturbance is not known, but chronic viral hepatitis is considered a good possibility. Some heroin addicts are blood carriers of hepatitis virus and represent a serious risk as blood donors. Abnormalities in liver function tests may be a useful means of detecting addicts who attempt to conceal their addiction.