Unsuspected exposure to cocaine in preschool children from a mediterranean city detected by hair analysis

Xavier Joya, Esther Papaseit, Ester Civit, Manuela Pellegrini, Oriol Vall, Oscar Garcia-Algar, Giulia Scaravelli, Simona Pichini

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30 Citations (Scopus)


We used hair testing to investigate the prevalence of unsuspected exposure to cocaine in a group of preschool children presenting to an urban pediatric emergency department without signs or symptoms suggestive of exposure. Hair samples were obtained from 90 children between 18 months and 5 years of age attending the emergency room of Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, Spain. In 85 cases, hair samples from the accompanying parent were also provided. The samples were analyzed for the presence of cocaine and benzoylecgonine by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, which also determined opiates and amphetamines. Parental sociodemographics, possible drug history, and information on the child's features were recorded. Hair samples from 21 children (23.3%) were positive for cocaine (concentration range 0.3-5.96 ng/mg of hair) with 1 sample also positive for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine and another for opiates. In 88% of the positive cases, cocaine was also found in the hair of the accompanying parent (15 of 17 matched parent-child hair samples). Parental sociodemographics were associated neither with children's exposure to cocaine nor with somatometry of children at birth. However, the behavioral patterns with potential harmful effects for the child's health (eg, tobacco smoking, cannabis, benzodiazepines and/or antidepressants use, and shorter breast-feeding time) were significantly higher in the parents of exposed children. A statistically higher percentage of exposed children were in the lower weight percentile group compared with the nonexposed children. In the light of these results, we advocate general hair screening to disclose exposure to cocaine and other drugs of abuse in children from risky environments, which could provide the basis for specific social and health interventions. Copyright © 2009 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-395
JournalTherapeutic Drug Monitoring
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2009


  • Cocaine
  • Hair testing
  • Preschool children


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