CHO Health Advisory: Lead poisoning associated with illicit opium use

24 September, 2018

Status: Active

Date issued: 24 September 2018

Issued by: Dr Angie Bone, Deputy Chief Health Officer (Environment), Victoria

Issued to: Health professionals, consumers

Key messages

  • Be alert for patients presenting with symptoms of lead poisoning, particularly those known to use illicit opium.
  • Patients with acute lead poisoning from contaminated illicit opium have predominantly presented with gastrointestinal symptoms and in particular abdominal pain (often severe) and constipation. This may be associated with anaemia.
  • Significantly elevated blood lead levels can cause long-term organ damage and be fatal.
  • People may not disclose their opium use and may need prompting or direct questioning.
  • To avoid a delay in diagnosis, offer blood lead testing for patients presenting with symptoms possibly related to lead poisoning as well as all who report illicit opium use.
  • Discuss withdrawal options including replacement therapy with patients who use illicit opium.
  • Notify the department of all blood lead levels greater than 5 µg/dL within five days of diagnosis.

Read the full alert: Lead poisoning associated with illicit opium use

Authorised by the Victorian Government, 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne.