Urine Drug Tests Indicate Higher Prevalence of Combined Alcohol and Cocaine Use Compared to Alcohol Together with Cannabis or Amphetamine-A Possible Link to Cocaethylene

Alcohol Alcohol. 2023 May 9;58(3):274-279. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agad009.

Abstract

Aim: This retrospective study examined the prevalence of combined ethanol and cocaine use, which produces an enhanced psychoactive effect through formation of the active metabolite cocaethylene, compared to combined use of ethanol and two other common recreational drugs, cannabis and amphetamine, based on urine drug test results.

Methods: The study was based on >30,000 consecutive samples from routine urine drug testing in 2020, and 2627 samples from acute poisonings in the STRIDA project (2010-2016), in Sweden. Drug testing for ethanol (i.e. ethyl glucuronide and ethyl sulfate), cocaine (benzoylecgonine), cannabis (Δ9-THC-COOH) and amphetamine was done by routine immunoassay screening and LC-MS/MS confirmatory methods. Seven samples testing positive for cocaine and ethyl glucuronide were also analyzed for cocaethylene by LC-HRMS/MS.

Results: Among routine samples for which testing of ethanol and cocaine had been requested, 43% tested positive for both substances, compared with 24% for ethanol and cannabis and 19% for ethanol and amphetamine (P < 0.0001). Among the drug-related intoxications, 60% of cocaine-positive samples were also positive for ethanol, compared to 40% for cannabis and ethanol and 37% for amphetamine and ethanol. Cocaethylene was detected (range 1.3-150 μg/L) in all randomly selected samples testing positive for ethanol and cocaine use.

Conclusions: These results, which were based on objective laboratory measures, indicated that combined ethanol and cocaine exposure was more prevalent than expected from drug use statistics. This may relate both to the common use of these substances in party and nightlife settings, and the amplified and prolonged pharmacological effect by the active metabolite cocaethylene.

Keywords: Ethanol; amphetamine; cannabis; cocaethylene; cocaine; urine drug test.

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamine
  • Cannabis* / metabolism
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Cocaine*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry

Substances

  • cocaethylene
  • ethyl glucuronide
  • Amphetamine
  • Cocaine
  • Ethanol