How is body packing managed in cocaine toxicity?

Updated: Dec 31, 2020
  • Author: Lynn Barkley Burnett, MD, EdD, JD; Chief Editor: Sage W Wiener, MD  more...
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In body packers, although a risk for toxicity exists, the drugs are often carefully packaged to prevent rupture or leakage. Carriers often purge the GI tract with a laxative before they ingest the drug packages and then consume only clear liquids until the drugs are delivered. If a constipating agent was used, they ingest a laxative to enhance evacuation when arriving at their destination.

Conversely, body stuffers quickly ingest drug packages to avoid arrest. Therefore, body stuffers are at increased risk for aspiration because of the rapidity with which they attempt to remove the evidence from police accessibility. Bronchoscopy has been used to successfully remove a drug packet aspirated into the lung.

Body stuffers have other risks as well. Because they were not planning to ingest the packet (as opposed to the body packer) and because they took no precautions selecting the drug container, the wrapping material often acts as a semipermeable membrane. The hypertonic content of the drug packet attracts water, making the ingested packages especially prone to rupture or leakage resulting in toxicity.

Potent polypharmaceutic overdose is also common, resulting from an attempt to swallow all of the illegal drugs on site.

The administration of activated charcoal has been recommended to adsorb any toxins from leaking bags, from ruptured bags, or that were liberated during enhancement of bowel transit (eg, whole-bowel irrigation). Treatment of asymptomatic patients should include laxatives (eg, sodium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, magnesium citrate, psyllium hydrophilic mucilage) or whole-bowel irrigation, several doses of activated charcoal, and close observation.

If a polyethylene glycol electrolyte lavage solution (eg, GoLYTELY, Colyte) is to be used for whole-bowel irrigation, Malbrain cautions that it must follow the administration of activated charcoal because the maximal adsorptive capacity of activated charcoal is at pH 7 and the polyethylene glycol electrolyte lavage solution has a pH of 8. [61] Do not use paraffin-containing laxatives (eg, Lansoyl) because they degrade latex. Avoid endoscopic manipulation and enemas because the drug packet may be ruptured. Contraindications to whole-bowel irrigation include ileus, GI hemorrhage, or bowel perforation.

Body stuffers should be observed, including cardiac monitoring, for 6 or more hours. [62] Body packers may require hours to days of hospitalization until all the packets have been passed. Surgical intervention is needed if patients present with serious toxicity or signs or symptoms of intestinal obstruction or ischemia.

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