Research Article| Volume 54, ISSUE 2, P481-489, February 2023

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Alcohol, drugs, and road traffic injuries in an emergency department in Mexico City

Published:December 19, 2022DOI:


      • 27.6% of RTIs in an ED in Mexico City tested positive for a psychoactive substance.
      • After alcohol, stimulants were the most prevalent class of substance.
      • Biological testing is highly recommended as a routine practice in the ED.


      There have been no studies reporting on the use of biological specimens in Mexico to analyze the prevalence of alcohol and drug use among Emergency Department (ED) patients with a road traffic injury (RTI). We report here on a sample of 304 adult patients, admitted to the ED of a public hospital in Mexico City from January to April 2022, after being involved in an RTI. Patients gave informed consent for a breath test measuring breath alcohol concentration (BAC) and a saliva screening test for six classes of drugs (amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cannabis, cocaine, and methamphetamine). We found that at least one in every four patients (27.6%) had traces of alcohol or drugs in their body upon arrival in the ED. The breath test found a positive BAC in 16.1% of the sample; the most common substances detected in saliva were amphetamines or methamphetamine (8.6%), followed by cocaine (7.0%) and cannabis (6.9%). Only a few variables differentiated those with positive BAC from those with negative BAC (male, arriving on a weekend day or night, and arriving by ambulance), and even fewer variables differentiated those testing positives for drugs than those testing negative (less than 13 years of education and drivers of cars, bicycles, or other vehicles). While alcohol continues to be the single most used substance, our findings indicate that stimulants are of great concern. Since those testing positives for alcohol or drugs are so similar in their demographic pattern to those testing negative, the introduction of biological testing as a routine practice in the ED is highly recommended. Routine testing makes it possible to provide the patient with the best treatment and is also the best way to assess substance use.


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