Children victims of drug abuser parents: hair testing as a forensic tool to assess exposure. A cohort of 37 cases from Spain

Hair testing is a useful tool to investigate suspected pediatric exposure to drugs of abuse. Newborns and young children are at high risk of exposure to drugs of abuse from parents or caregivers who consumed these substances, a fact prosecuted by Spanish authorities as child abuse. A retrospective study based on a cohort of thirty seven cases classified using several parameters, which involve children under twelve years old, were analyzed at the Drugs Laboratory of the National Institute of Toxicology and Forensic Sciences (Madrid, Spain) between 2009 and 2021. Hair samples were tested for the presence of opiates, cocaine, ketamine, amphetamines, methadone, and cannabis using a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) method. A 59% of the studied children had ages in the range of 1-3 years old, and in 81% of cases, victims required hospitalization. In 81% of cases (n=30), hair was submitted only or in combination with other samples, and these were classified in four categories according to analyzed samples: A (only hair), B (hair and blood), C (hair and urine) and D (hair, blood and urine). The 93.3% of these cases (n=28) showed a positive result of cannabinoids (THC and CBN in hair and THC-COOH in urine; 71.4% n=20), cocaine and metabolites (benzoylecgonine and cocaethylene; 46.4% n=13), opiates (morphine and 6-acetylmorphine) and amphetamines (MDMA and MDMA): 3.10% n= 1 respectively. Hair analysis matched positive results in cases where urine screening test was carried out previously (n=24) and in those cases where blood and/or urine were also submitted (35.6% n=11). As a conclusion, hair analysis was confirmed as a useful tool to detect previous exposure to acute poisoning events in children.

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