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1.  Radiological and practical aspects of body packing 
The British Journal of Radiology  2014;87(1036):20130500.
Body packing represents the concealment of illegal substances in a person's body with the aim of smuggling. “Body packers” either swallow drug-filled packets or introduce drug-filled packets into their bodies rectally or vaginally with the purpose of concealing them. The three main smuggled drugs are cocaine, heroin and cannabis products. Body packing represents a serious risk of acute narcotic toxicity from drug exposure, intestinal obstruction owing to pellet impaction and bowel perforation with consequent abdominal sepsis. A suspected body packer is generally admitted to hospital to perform imaging investigations and confirm the presence of drugs in his/her body. Radiological imaging methods are essential to diagnose body packing and to detect potential complications. Increasing sophistication of traffickers and improvements in packaging add to the detection difficulty. Radiologists should be aware of the appearance of drug packets in a range of imaging modalities. This article informs physicians about the challenging aspects of body packing, its background and medicolegal issues, what imaging methods can be used and what criteria are necessary to perform a correct diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC4067033  PMID: 24472727
2.  The outcome of drug smuggling by 'body packers'--the British experience. 
Body packing or internal concealment used by drug dealers to smuggle illicit substances, puts the body packer at risk of both imprisonment and death. We report our experience over a 4 year period from January 1996 to December 1999 of suspects presenting to our hospital (the largest series in Europe). A total of 572 cases were assessed radiographically and 180 were shown to be carrying foreign bodies. The commonest reasons for admission were suspected overdose or gastrointestinal obstruction. Thirty-six cases were admitted, of whom 7 required surgical intervention. No deaths occurred. Of all people detained for smuggling by internal concealment into Britain during this period, 27% were seen in our hospital. These cases may present alone or escorted by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise personnel, and one must be aware of this possibility even when situated away from a port of entry.
PMCID: PMC2503744  PMID: 11890624
3.  Body packers: a plea for conservative treatment 
Langenbeck's Archives of Surgery  2011;397(1):125-130.
The incidence of smuggling and transporting of illegal drugs by internal concealment, also known as body packing, is increasing in the Western world. The objective of this study was to determine the outcome of conservative and surgical approaches in body packers.
Materials and methods
Clinical data on body packers admitted to our hospital from January 2004 until December 2009 were collected. The protocol for body packers required surgery when packets were present in the stomach for >48 h. Outcomes of the conservative and surgical group were assessed and analyzed. Morbidity and mortality were assessed in body packers with drug packets present in the stomach for <48 h and in those with gastric packets for >48 h.
During the study period, more body packers were treated conservatively. Mortality was 2% in all patients and was due to intoxication. There were no significant differences of mortality, hospital admission time, and ICU admission time in the compared groups with drug packets in the stomach for less or >48 h. In 24% (4/17) of the patients with bad package material, a ruptured drug packet was found during surgery. This resulted in death in only one patient.
Drug packets in the stomach for >48 h are not an indication for surgery. We recommend that surgery should only be performed in body packers with signs of intoxication or ileus and reserve conservative treatment for all other patients.
PMCID: PMC3224221  PMID: 21984212
Body packer; Conservative; Surgery; Treatment
4.  Experiences with Policing among People Who Inject Drugs in Bangkok, Thailand: A Qualitative Study 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(12):e1001570.
Using thematic analysis, Kerr and colleagues document the experiences of policing among people who inject drugs in Bangkok and examine how interactions with police can affect drug-using behaviors and health care access.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Despite Thailand's commitment to treating people who use drugs as “patients” not “criminals,” Thai authorities continue to emphasize criminal law enforcement for drug control. In 2003, Thailand's drug war received international criticism due to extensive human rights violations. However, few studies have since investigated the impact of policing on drug-using populations. Therefore, we sought to examine experiences with policing among people who inject drugs (PWID) in Bangkok, Thailand, between 2008 and 2012.
Methods and Findings
Between July 2011 and June 2012, semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 42 community-recruited PWID participating in the Mitsampan Community Research Project in Bangkok. Interviews explored PWID's encounters with police during the past three years. Audio-recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim, and a thematic analysis was conducted to document the character of PWID's experiences with police. Respondents indicated that policing activities had noticeably intensified since rapid urine toxicology screening became available to police. Respondents reported various forms of police misconduct, including false accusations, coercion of confessions, excessive use of force, and extortion of money. However, respondents were reluctant to report misconduct to the authorities in the face of social and structural barriers to seeking justice. Respondents' strategies to avoid police impeded access to health care and facilitated transitions towards the misuse of prescribed pharmaceuticals. The study's limitations relate to the transferability of the findings, including the potential biases associated with the small convenience sample.
This study suggests that policing in Bangkok has involved injustices, human rights abuses, and corruption, and policing practices in this setting appeared to have increased PWID's vulnerability to poor health through various pathways. Novel to this study are findings pertaining to the use of urine drug testing by police, which highlight the potential for widespread abuse of this emerging technology. These findings raise concern about ongoing policing practices in this setting.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
In many countries, the dominant strategy used to control illegal drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine is criminal law enforcement, a strategy that sometimes results in human rights abuses such as ill-treatment by police, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detention. Moreover, growing evidence suggests that aggressive policing of illicit drug use can have adverse public-health consequences. For example, the fear engendered by intensive policing may cause people who inject drugs (PWID) to avoid services such as needle exchanges, thereby contributing to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. One country with major epidemics of illicit drug use and of HIV/AIDS among PWID is Thailand. Although Thailand reclassified drug users as “patients” instead of “criminals” in 2002, possession and consumption of illicit drugs remain criminal offenses. The 2002 legislation also created a system of compulsory drug detention centers, most of which lack evidence-based addiction treatment services. In 2003, the Thai government launched a campaign to suppress drug trafficking and to enrol 300,000 people who use drugs into treatment. This campaign received international criticism because it involved extensive human rights violations, including more than 2,800 extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users and dealers.
Why Was This Study Done?
Drug-related arrests and compulsory detention of drug users are increasing in Thailand but what is the impact of current policing practices on drug users and on public health? In this qualitative study (a study that aims for an in-depth understanding of human behavior), the researchers use thematic analysis informed by the Rhodes' Risk Environment Framework to document the social and structural factors that led to encounters with the police among PWID in Bangkok between 2008 and 2012, the policing tactics employed during these encounters, and the associated health consequences of these encounters. The Risk Environment Framework posits that a range of social, political, economic, and physical environmental factors interact with each other and shape the production of drug-related harm.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between July 2011 and June 2012, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with a convenience sample (a non-random sample from a nearby population) of 42 participants in the Mitsampan Community Research Project, an investigation of drug-using behavior, health care access, and drug-related harms among PWID in Bangkok. Respondents reported that policing activities had intensified since rapid urine toxicology screening became widely available and since the initiation of a crackdown on drug users in 2011. They described various forms of violence and misconduct that they had experienced during confrontations with police, including false accusations, degrading stop and search procedures, and excessive use of force. Urine drug testing was identified as a key tool used by the police, with some respondents describing how police caused unnecessary humiliation by requesting urine samples in public places. It was also reported that the police used positive test results as a means of extortion. Finally, some respondents reported feeling powerless in relation to the police and cited fear of retaliation as an important barrier to obtaining redress for police corruption. Others reported that they had adopted strategies to avoid the police such as staying indoors, a strategy likely to impede access to health care, or changing their drug-using behavior by, for example, injecting midazolam rather than methamphetamine, a practice associated with an increased risk of injection-related complications.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the policing of PWID in Bangkok between 2008 and 2012 involved injustices, human rights abuses, and corruption and highlight the potential for widespread misuse of urine drug testing. Moreover, they suggest that policing practices in this setting may have increased the vulnerability of PWID to poor health by impeding their access to health care and by increasing the occurrence of risky drug-using behaviors. Because this study involved a small convenience sample of PWID, these findings may not be generalizable to other areas of Bangkok or Thailand and do not indicate whether police misconduct and corruption is highly prevalent across the all police departments in Bangkok. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that multilevel structural changes and interventions are needed to mitigate the harm associated with policing of illicit drug use in Bangkok. These changes will need to ensure full accountability for police misconduct and access to legal services for victims of this misconduct. They will also need to include ethical guidelines for urine drug testing and the reform of policies that promote repressive policing and compulsory detention.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Burris and Koester
Human Rights Watch, a global organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, has information about drug policy and human rights, which includes information on Thailand
The Global Commission on Drug Policy published a report in June 2012 entitled “The War on Drugs and HIV/AIDS: How the Criminalization of Drug Use Fuels the Global Pandemic” (available in several languages)
The Global Commission on HIV and the Law published a report in July 2012 entitled “HIV and the Law: Risk, Rights and Health” (available in several languages), the Open Society Foundations have prepared a briefing on this report
More information about the Mitsampan Community Research Project is available
PMCID: PMC3858231  PMID: 24339753
5.  Body Packing and Its Radiologic Manifestations: A Review Article 
Iranian Journal of Radiology  2011;8(4):205-210.
Body packing is described as using the abdominal or pelvic cavity for concealing illegal drugs. Leakage from the packets may cause catastrophic effects on smugglers and medical history is not reliable in these patients. Moreover, new sophisticated smuggling techniques make it imperative that radiologists and emergency physicians understand and familiarize themselves with the different radiological manifestations of ingested drug packets. Currently, there is no gold standard for imaging patients suspected of body packing; nevertheless, computed tomography (CT) seems to be the best modality for packet detection and unenhanced CT without bowel preparation is a reliable technique for detection of ingested packets. On abdominal radiography, packets may be visualized as oval or round radiopaque foreign bodies surrounded by a gas halo. In the literature, sensitivity of abdominal radiography is reported from 74% to 100%. Visualization of the drug packets may be strikingly hampered by administration of oral or intravenous contrast medium in abdomino-pelvic CT; hence, contrast-enhanced CT does not seem to be a suitable modality for searching the ingested packets in suspicious smugglers.
PMCID: PMC3522363  PMID: 23329942
Pelvis; Abdomen; Radiography, Abdominal; Tomography, X-Ray Computed
6.  Walking on thin ice! Identifying methamphetamine “drug mules” on digital plain radiography 
The British Journal of Radiology  2014;87(1036):20130472.
The purpose of this study was to retrospectively evaluate the sensitivity, specificity and accuracy of identifying methamphetamine (MA) internal payloads in “drug mules” by plain abdominal digital radiography (DR).
The study consisted of 35 individuals suspected of internal MA drug containers. A total of 59 supine digital radiographs were collected. An overall calculation regarding the diagnostic accuracy for all “drug mules” and a specific evaluation concerning the radiological appearance of drug packs as well as the rate of clearance and complications in correlation with the reader's experience were performed. The gold standard was the presence of secured drug packs in the faeces.
There were 16 true-positive “drug mules” identified. DR of all drug carriers for Group 1 (forensic imaging experienced readers, n = 2) exhibited a sensitivity of 100%, a mean specificity of 76.3%, positive predictive value (PPV) of 78.5%, negative predictive value (NPV) of 100% and a mean accuracy 87.2%. Group 2 (inexperienced readers, n = 3) showed a lower sensitivity (93.7%), a mean specificity of 86%, a PPV of 86.5%, an NPV of 94.1% and a mean accuracy of 89.5%. The interrater agreement within Group 1 was 0.72 and within Group 2 averaged to 0.79, indicating a fair to very good agreement.
DR is a valuable screening tool in cases of MA body packers with huge internal payloads being associated with a high diagnostic insecurity. Diagnostic insecurity on plain films may be overcome by low-dose CT as a cross-sectional imaging modality and addressed by improved radiological education in reporting drug carriers on imaging.
Advances in knowledge:
Diagnostic signs (double-condom and halo signs) on digital plain radiography are specific in MA “drug mules”, although DR is associated with high diagnostic insecurity and underreports the total internal payload.
PMCID: PMC4067014  PMID: 24472728
7.  Prevalence of smuggled and foreign cigarette use in Tehran, 2009 
Tobacco Control  2010;19(5):380-382.
Iran is one of two main target markets for tobacco smuggling in the WHO's Eastern Mediterranean Region. The Iranian government has a local tobacco monopoly but there is high demand for international brands. Informal reports show about 20% of cigarette consumption is smuggled brands. This pack survey study is the first in Iran to gather validated information on use of smuggled cigarettes.
A randomized cross-sectional household survey in Tehran in 2008–2009 of 1540 smokers aged 16–90 (83% men) was performed, including interviewer checking of cigarette packs.
In all, 20.9% of cigarettes and 6.7% of domestic branded cigarettes were smuggled. A total of 60.1% of smokers preferred foreign cigarettes. There was no significant difference between consumption of illegal cigarettes by sex. (Fisher exact test p=0.61) Use of smuggled cigarettes was higher among younger smokers (p=0.01)
Use of illegal cigarettes is high. Tobacco control laws outlawing their sale are not being enforced.
PMCID: PMC2978928  PMID: 20876076
Cigarette; smuggling; Iran; Nicotine products
8.  Clinical management of cocaine body packers: the Hillingdon experience 
Canadian Journal of Surgery  2009;52(5):417-421.
International smuggling of cocaine by internal concealment is a serious and growing problem. People who engage in this practice are commonly referred to as body packers or mules. The most serious risks associated with body packing include intestinal obstruction and death from cocaine intoxication. These patients were previously managed primarily by surgical retrieval. This was associated with significant mortality due to rupture of poorly constructed cocaine packages. More recently, conservative management using whole bowel irrigation with polyethylene-glycol (Klean-prep Norgine) has been shown to be safe for most patients. To date, however, a consistent approach for the management of these patients has not been established.
We retrospectively reviewed the case notes, prescription charts and radiological investigations of all body packers admitted to our unit between 2000 and 2005, concentrating on initial management, complications and outcome.
We identified 61 patients for inclusion. Of these, 56 were managed conservatively with a selection of aperients and laxatives. Six patients were treated successfully for cocaine toxicity and 5 required surgical retrieval of cocaine packets.
Our results confirm the safety of a conservative approach. Based on our experience and a review of the literature, we have devised a treatment protocol to reduce the risk of complications and the length of stay in hospital.
PMCID: PMC2769129  PMID: 19865578
9.  Foreign Material in the Gastrointestinal Tract: Cocaine Packets 
Smuggling drugs by swallowing or inserting into a body cavity is not only a serious and growing international crime, but can also lead to lethal medical complications. The most common cause of death in ‘body packers’, people transporting drugs by ingesting a packet into the gastrointestinal tract, is acute drug toxicity from a ruptured packet. However, more than 30 years after the initial report of body packing, there is still no definitive treatment protocol for the management of this patient group. The treatment strategy is determined according to the particular condition of the patient and the clinical experience of the treatment center. Surgical intervention is also less common now, due to both the use of improved packaging materials among smugglers and a shift towards a more conservative medical approach. Herein, we report a case of toxicity from ingested packets of cocaine that leaked and, despite surgery, resulted in exitus of the patient.
PMCID: PMC3934785  PMID: 24574951
Body packers; Cocaine toxicity; Gastrointestinal tract; Treatment; Surgery
10.  Intracolonic multiple pebbles in young adults: Radiographic imaging and conventional approach to a case 
Most of the foreign bodies detected in adult gastrointestinal systems are accidentally swallowed pins. In this study, we presented a case with intracolonic multiple pebbles. A 20-year-old man was admitted to emergency surgery policlinic for abdominal pain for 2 d without any alleviation or aggravation. His upright plain abdominal radiographic imaging revealed about 30-40 overt dense opacities in lumen of colonic segments, with oval and well shaped contours, each approximately 1 cm x 1 cm in size. The multiplanar reconstructions and three-dimensional images combined with sectional screening showed that all pebbles had passed completely into the colon and no foreign bodies had remained in the ileal segments. On psychiatric assessment, he was found to have immature personality features, difficulty in overcoming stressors and adaptation disorder. He recovered by conservative management and radiographic monitoring applied during his follow-up. Thus, it can be concluded that, in differential diagnosis of abdominal pain in adult ages, though less frequently seen than in children, gastrointestinal system foreign bodies should always be kept in mind and it should be considered that ingestion of pebbles may be one of the factors contributing to abdominal pain particularly in young adults with psychiatric problems. In such cases suspected of having foreign bodies which cannot be detected by plain films, abdominal tomography can be an alternative for diagnostic imaging.
PMCID: PMC4124422  PMID: 17009413
Intracolonic multiple pebbles; Current approach; Radiographic imaging
11.  Body packing by rectal insertion of cocaine packets: a case report 
BMC Research Notes  2013;6:178.
Body packing is used for international drug transport, immediate drug concealment during a police searching or introducing drugs inside prisons. Despite the high level of specialization of dealers who have started to manufacture more complex packs, up to 5% of patients could develop intoxication due to pack rupture. Bowel obstruction is another acute complication.
Case presentation
A 27-year-old black male patient was sent to the hospital by court order for clinical evaluation and toxicological examination. The patient was conscious, oriented, had good color, normal arterial pressure and heart rate, and no signs of acute intoxication. Abdominal examination revealed discrete pain upon deep palpation and a small mass in the left iliac fossa. A plain abdominal radiograph revealed several oval structures located in the rectum and sigmoid. Fasting and a 50 g dose of activated charcoal every six hours were prescribed. After three days, the patient spontaneously evacuated 28 cocaine packs.
Adequate clinical management and prompt identification of potential complications are of fundamental importance in dealing with body packing.
PMCID: PMC3679833  PMID: 23641965
12.  Body Packing: From Seizures to Laparotomy 
Body packing is a common method for illegal drug trafficking. Complications associated with body packing can be severe and even lead to rapid death. Thus, a timely diagnosis is warranted. As most body packers initially do not show any symptoms, making a correct diagnosis can be rather challenging. We describe a case of a 41-year-old male, who was admitted with an epileptic seizure and who turned out to be a cocaine intoxicated body packer. Due to neurological and cardiovascular deterioration an emergency surgery was performed. Four bags of cocaine could be removed. We discuss the current management regimen in symptomatic and asymptomatic body packers and highlight pearls and pitfalls with diagnosis and treatment.
PMCID: PMC4391523  PMID: 25883813
13.  The behaviour of purchasing smuggled cigarettes in Taiwan 
Tobacco Control  2003;12(1):28-33.
Objective: Since market liberalisation in 1987, the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau (TTWMB) annual statistics indicate that both the demand for imported cigarettes as well as the number of seized smuggled packs have increased with an average revenue loss of NT$4942 million over the past 15 years. The NT$10 average increase in cigarette prices after Taiwan entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the implementation of the Tobacco and Alcohol Tax Law in 2002 are forcing policy makers to examine smuggling even more closely. This study evaluates factors that affect an individual smoker's decision to purchase smuggled cigarettes, particularly when faced with higher prices.
Design: 437 male smokers of imported cigarettes were drawn from a national interview survey on cigarette consumption, which the Division of Health Policy Research at the National Health Research Institutes conducted during the year 2000. Multiple logistic regression models were used to analyse the behaviour of purchasing smuggled cigarettes with respect to demographic factors, economic factors, smoking behaviour, and other variables.
Results: Cigarette price was the driving factor most closely linked to the purchase of smuggled cigarettes—a 1% increase in cigarette price raised the likelihood of purchasing smuggled cigarettes at least 2.60 times (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.08 to 6.26). Smokers who spent more than NT$1000/month on cigarettes were twice as likely to purchase smuggled cigarettes as those who spent less than NT$1000 (odds ratio (OR) 2.34, 95% CI 1.48 to 3.70). Betel nut chewers were more likely to purchase smuggled cigarettes (OR 1.80, 95% CI 1.09 to 2.90). Smokers who opposed cigarette taxation policy were 1.69 times more likely to buy smuggled cigarettes. Personal income was not significantly associated with smuggled cigarettes purchases.
Conclusions: This study evaluates what causes smokers to purchase smuggled cigarettes. We have determined that cigarette price is the most important factor and that betel nut vendors are the main suppliers. Our study provides policy makers with information that can help them develop effective strategies to curb cigarette smuggling after Taiwan's recent cigarette tax reform, which has increased cigarette prices.
PMCID: PMC1759094  PMID: 12612358
14.  The use of a metal detector to locate ingested metallic foreign bodies in children. 
OBJECTIVE: A pilot study to assess whether modern metal detectors can reduce unnecessary radiation in searching for ingested metallic foreign bodies. METHODS: Over a one year period, 20 children presenting to an accident and emergency department with suspected metallic foreign body ingestion were studied. Using an Adams Electronics AD15 metal detector, the radiographer recorded the location of metallic foreign bodies on a pictorial representation of neck, chest, and abdomen. The child then had plain radiographs of abdomen, chest, and neck in sequential order until the foreign body was located. RESULTS: In seven cases neither metal detector nor radiography revealed a foreign body (true negatives). In the remaining 13 cases where metal detection was positive, subsequent radiography or faecal search was also positive (true positives). The 13 foreign bodies were coins (8), gold ring (1), ball bearing (1), screw (1), staple (1), and washer (1). All were in the stomach or proximal small bowel on radiography except for one coin in the right iliac fossa. CONCLUSIONS: The detector can demonstrate ingested metallic foreign bodies reliably in children, thereby reducing unnecessary irradiation.
PMCID: PMC1342771  PMID: 8894862
Previous research has identified the impact of law enforcement practices on the behaviors and health of injection drug users (IDUs). We undertook a qualitative study of IDUs’ experiences of policing practices in two Mexican cities on the U.S. border.
In 2004, two teams of Mexican interviewers conducted in-depth interviews with IDUs residing in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez (Cd. Juarez), Mexico who had injected drugs at least once in the prior month. Topics included types of drug used, injection settings, access to sterile needles and experiences with police. Field notes and transcribed interviews were analyzed to identify emergent themes.
Among the 43 participants, most reported that it is common for IDUs to be arrested and detained for 36 hours for carrying sterile or used syringes. Most reported that they or someone they knew had been beaten by police. Interviews suggested 5 key themes relating to police influence on the risk environment: 1) impact of policing practices on accessibility of sterile syringes, 2) influence of police on choice of places to inject drugs (e.g., shooting galleries), 3) police violence, 4) police corruption, and 5) perceived changes in policing practices.
Findings suggest that some behavior of police officers in Tijuana and Cd. Juarez is inconsistent with legal norms and may be negatively influencing the risk of acquiring blood-borne infections among IDUs. Implementing a comprehensive and successful HIV prevention program among IDUs requires interventions to influence the knowledge, attitudes and practices of law enforcement officers.
PMCID: PMC2546504  PMID: 17997089
Enforcement; Injection Drug Use; Mexico; Drug Policy
16.  Police Officers’ and Paramedics’ Experiences with Overdose and Their Knowledge and Opinions of Washington State’s Drug Overdose–Naloxone–Good Samaritan Law 
Opioid overdoses are an important public health concern. Concerns about police involvement at overdose events may decrease calls to 911 for emergency medical care thereby increasing the chances than an overdose becomes fatal. To address this concern, Washington State passed a law that provides immunity from drug possession charges and facilitates the availability of take-home-naloxone (the opioid overdose antidote) to bystanders in 2010. To examine the knowledge and opinions regarding opioid overdoses and this new law, police (n = 251) and paramedics (n = 28) in Seattle, WA were surveyed. The majority of police (64 %) and paramedics (89 %) had been at an opioid overdose in the prior year. Few officers (16 %) or paramedics (7 %) were aware of the new law. While arrests at overdose scenes were rare, drugs or paraphernalia were confiscated at 25 % of the most recent overdoses police responded to. Three quarters of officers felt it was important they were at the scene of an overdose to protect medical personnel, and a minority, 34 %, indicated it was important they were present for the purpose of enforcing laws. Police opinions about the immunity and naloxone provisions of the law were split, and we present a summary of the reasons for their opinions. The results of this survey were utilized in public health efforts by the police department which developed a roll call training video shown to all patrol officers. Knowledge of the law was low, and opinions of it were mixed; however, police were concerned about the issue of opioid overdose and willing to implement agency-wide training.
PMCID: PMC3853169  PMID: 23900788
Overdose; Law; Police; Paramedic; Opioid; Heroin; Naloxone; Good Samaritan; Public health
17.  The Consumption of Khat and Other Drugs in Somali Combatants: A Cross-Sectional Study 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(12):e341.
For more than a decade, most parts of Somalia have not been under the control of any type of government. This “failure of state” is complete in the central and southern regions and most apparent in Mogadishu, which had been for a long period in the hands of warlords deploying their private militias in a battle for resources. In contrast, the northern part of Somalia has had relatively stable control under regional administrations, which are, however, not internationally recognized. The present study provides information about drug abuse among active security personnel and militia with an emphasis on regional differences in relation to the lack of central governmental control—to our knowledge the first account on this topic.
Methods and Findings
Trained local interviewers conducted a total of 8,723 interviews of armed personnel in seven convenience samples in different regions of Somalia; 587 (6.3%) respondents discontinued the interview and 12 (0.001%) were excluded for other reasons. We assessed basic sociodemographic information, self-reported khat use, and how respondents perceived the use of khat, cannabis (which includes both hashish and marijuana), psychoactive tablets (e.g., benzodiazepines), alcohol, solvents, and hemp seeds in their units. The cautious interpretation of our data suggest that sociodemographic characteristics and drug use among military personnel differ substantially between northern and southern/central Somalia. In total, 36.4% (99% confidence interval [CI] 19.3%–57.7%) of respondents reported khat use in the week before the interview, whereas in some regions of southern/central Somalia khat use, especially excessive use, was reported more frequently. Self-reported khat use differed substantially from the perceived use in units. According to the perception of respondents, the most frequent form of drug use is khat chewing (on average, 70.1% in previous week, 99% CI 63.6%–76.5%), followed by smoking cannabis (10.7%, 99% CI 0%–30.4%), ingesting psychoactive tablets (8.5%, 99% CI 0%–24.4%), drinking alcohol (5.3%, 99% CI 0%–13.8%), inhaling solvents (1.8%, 99% CI 0%–5.1%), and eating hemp seeds (0.6%, 99% CI 0%–2.0%). Perceived use of khat differs little between northern and southern Somalia, but perceived use of other drugs reaches alarmingly high levels in some regions of the south, especially related to smoking cannabis and using psychoactive tablets.
Our data suggest that drug use has quantitatively and qualitatively changed over the course of conflicts in southern Somalia, as current patterns are in contrast to traditional use. Although future studies using random sampling methods need to confirm our results, we hypothesize that drug-related problems of armed staff and other vulnerable groups in southern Somalia has reached proportions formerly unknown to the country, especially as we believe that any biases in our data would lead to an underestimation of actual drug use. We recommend that future disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs need to be prepared to deal with significant drug-related problems in Somalia.
Having interviewed military personnel in Somali, Michael Odenwald and colleagues conclude that drug-related problems, mainly relating to the use of khat, have reached proportions formerly unknown to the country.
Editors' Summary
Somalia—a country in eastern Africa—has been torn apart by civil war over the past few decades. Fighting among clans and warlords has caused the near-complete breakdown of state control in the central and southern regions of the country (including the capital, Mogadishu) although independent administrations provide some governmental control in the northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland. Efforts to establish a transitional federal government have largely failed and, to date, it has been impossible to initiate a nationwide disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) program in Somalia for ex-combatants, a key step in the transition from war to peace. As in other war-torn countries, the social and economic reintegration of ex-combatants into civil society in Somalia is likely to be difficult. However, without effective reintegration, ex-combatants may take up arms again because they have no means of economic support or become disaffected and seek to destabilize the peace.
Why Was This Study Done?
One risk factor for poor adjustment to civilian life among ex-combatants is substance abuse. Many ex-combatants use drugs to help them deal with traumatic war-related memories, but unrecognized drug abuse can hinder reintegration, increase criminality, and threaten the peace-building process. Most studies on substance abuse and treatment of drug-related problems of former combatants have been done in Western countries. Very little is known about how many ex-combatants abuse drugs and the types of drugs they abuse in postconflict regions in Africa. This information is needed if DDR programs are to be effective. In this study, therefore, the researchers have investigated drug use among “convenience” samples of combatants in seven regions of Somalia. Convenience samples are groups of people chosen to participate in a study because they were available rather than groups chosen randomly from the whole population.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Trained interviewers asked more than 8,000 military personnel about their own recent use of khat (chewing khat leaves releases an amphetamine-like stimulant), a legally traded drug in Somalia, where its use has long been commonplace. The interviewers also asked the respondents how much they thought others in their military personnel unit used khat and other drugs such as cannabis, psychoactive drugs (tranquilizers and other drugs that change mood, behavior, and thinking), solvents, alcohol, and hemp seeds. (Note that the researchers relied on perceived drug use; alcohol is illegal in Somalia, which is a Muslim country, and the use of drugs other than khat is not generally acknowledged.) Over the whole of Somalia, one-third of respondents said they had used khat recently. The highest levels of self-reported use were in southern/central Somalia, where up to two-thirds of combatants used it. More respondents in southern/central Somalia reported using an excessive amount of khat (more than two “bundles” of khat per day for one week) and having sleepless nights (a side-effect of khat) than in northern Somalia. The overall perceived use of khat (two-thirds of combatants) was higher than the self-reported use but similar in northern and southern/central regions. Finally, the perceived use of other drugs was highest in the southern/central regions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The use of convenience samples (which may not be representative of the whole population) and other aspects of this study mean that the numerical values of these findings may be inaccurate. For example, the levels of self-reported khat use may be underestimates because drug-using combatants may have been undersampled or not all combatants may have responded honestly. Nevertheless, these findings confirm that khat is the most commonly consumed drug among combatants and reveal a large increase in the number of people using it in southern/central Somalia since the conflict began (only one in five adult males used khat in these regions in 1980). They also reveal that more khat is being consumed by some individuals than previously, particularly in the southern/central regions, and uncover a worrying increase in the perceived use of other drugs, again mainly in the southern/central regions. These changes in the traditional patterns of drug use in Somalia, if confirmed in studies that use random sampling methods, suggest that future DDR programs in Somalia will need to be prepared to deal with major drug-related problems and that drug use among the general population might have reached dimensions formerly unknown to the country.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Information about Somalia is available from the US Department of State, the United Nations, and Swiss Peace, a peace research institute
The US Council on Foreign Relations, the Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base Project (based at the University of Colorado), and the UN DDR Resource Centre provide general information on DDR programs
The Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration program provides additional information about ongoing DDR programs in other parts of Africa (in English and French)
DrugScope (a UK charity) provides information about khat
The US National Drug Intelligence Center provides information about khat in the US
The UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs provides an assessment of the risk of khat to individuals and communities in the UK
The Vivo Foundation supports programs that relieve the trauma of stress, including PTSD
PMCID: PMC2121109  PMID: 18076280
18.  Development of a plain radiograph requesting algorithm for patients presenting with acute abdominal pain 
Radiologists at a large teaching hospital felt that plain radiograph imaging was being performed inappropriately for patients admitted with acute abdominal pain. They felt requests were either not indicated or CT was a more appropriate first line radiological investigation in certain circumstances.
An audit was performed looking at plain radiograph imaging requests for emergency admissions under general surgery, using Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) guidelines as the standard. The audit revealed that only 80% of plain radiograph requests met RCR guidelines. It also showed that 33% of acute admissions undergoing plain radiograph imaging proceeded to CT within forty-eight hours. These findings lead to the development of a plain radiograph algorithm. This aimed to improve plain radiograph imaging requests and to increase the use of CT as an earlier or first line radiological investigation where appropriate.
Outcome of discussion at local and regional clinical governance meetings was that earlier CT would be useful in specific circumstances. The algorithm provides a framework for appropriately expediting CT in patients presenting with acute abdominal pain where bowel obstruction or perforation was suspected. However, consultant surgeons felt that in patients presenting with acute abdominal pain, the plain abdominal radiograph often demonstrates findings associated with specific diagnoses not specifically indicated by RCR guidelines. If RCR guidelines for plain radiograph imaging are broadened, radiological interpretation would examine for a broader range of findings and, when combined with other clinical information, diagnoses can be made, thus avoiding the need for further imaging or explorative surgery.
PMCID: PMC3533591  PMID: 23289083
Radiograph; abdominal pain; algorithm; Royal College Radiologists guidelines
19.  Management of rectal foreign bodies 
Entrapped anorectal foreign bodies are being encountered more frequently in clinical practice. Although entrapped foreign bodies are most often related to sexual behavior, they can also result from ingestion or sexual assault.
Between 1999 and 2009, 15 patients with foreign bodies in the rectum were diagnosed and treated, at Izmir Training and Research Hospital, in Izmir. Information regarding the foreign body, clinical presentation, treatment strategies, and outcomes were documented. We retrospectively reviewed the medical records of these unusual patients.
All patients were males, and their mean age was 48 years (range, 33–68 years). The objects in the rectum of these 15 patients were an impulse body spray can (4 patients), a bottle (4 patients), a dildo (2 patient), an eggplant (1 patient), a brush (1 patient), a tea glass (1 patient), a ball point pen (1 patient) and a wishbone (1 patient, after oral ingestion). Twelve objects were removed transanally by anal dilatation under general anesthesia. Three patients required laparotomy. Routine rectosigmoidoscopic examination was performed after removal. One patient had perforation of the rectosigmoid and 4 had lacerations of the mucosa. None of the patients died.
Foreign bodies in the rectum should be managed in a well-organized manner. The diagnosis is confirmed by plain abdominal radiographs and rectal examination. Manual extraction without anaesthesia is only possible for very low-lying objects. Patients with high- lying foreign bodies generally require general anaesthesia to achieve complete relaxation of the anal sphincters to facilitate extraction. Open surgery should be reserved only for patients with perforation, peritonitis, or impaction of the foreign body.
PMCID: PMC3601006  PMID: 23497492
Foreign body; Rectum; Anorectal trauma
20.  All the Wrong Places: An Unusual Case of Foreign Body Ingestion and Inhalation 
Case Reports in Gastroenterology  2012;6(3):778-783.
Intentional ingestion of foreign bodies is common in psychiatric patients and prison inmates. Timing of endoscopy for ingested foreign bodies varies and depends on the type and location of the foreign body in the gastrointestinal tract. We present the case of a 26-year-old man who was brought from a correctional facility after confessing to have swallowed a few shower curtain hooks. Abdominal X-ray done in the emergency room revealed multiple foreign bodies in the stomach. An upper endoscopy was done in the emergency room with the use of an overtube. The first metal piece was caught by a snare and removed with the endoscope. All other foreign bodies which were present on the abdominal X-ray could not be visualized initially as there was retained food in the stomach. After multiple attempts, four other foreign bodies were found and each one was caught by the forceps and then the scope was removed with the forceps holding the foreign body. There was an additional foreign body in the right mainstem bronchus. The patient had coughed up the foreign body and swallowed it into the gastrointestinal tract. A computed tomography scan of chest and abdomen was done for evaluation, which showed the foreign body in the cecum. To our knowledge, this is the first case report of a patient intentionally transferring a foreign body from one organ system to another. Colonoscopy was done and the foreign body was removed rectally with a snare without any complications.
PMCID: PMC3551388  PMID: 23341801
Foreign bodies in the stomach; Bronchus; Colon
21.  Capsule Endoscopy: A Cause of Late Small Bowel Obstruction and Perforation 
Case Reports in Surgery  2013;2013:458108.
Case Report. A 71-year-old man was admitted to the department of gastroenterology with diffuse abdominal pain. Through the previous 12 months, the patient had experienced episodes of vomiting and watery diarrhea of increasing intensity as well as weight loss. The patient was evaluated with ultrasound, MRI, and subsequently a capsule endoscopy. Six months later, the patient presented, and an abdominal CT-scan showed mechanical small bowel obstruction with suspicion of metallic foreign body and perforation. Laparotomy showed perforation, stenosis, and foreign body, approximately 5 cm from the ileocecal valve. A right hemicolectomy and distal ileectomy (60 cm) with an ileostomy were performed. On further inspection of resection, a capsule endoscope was found impacted in a stenosis. The ileostomy was later reversed without complications. Conclusion. It is important to be aware of the possibility of capsule retention, especially in patients with known or suspected Crohn's disease, due to the propensity of Crohn's disease to form stenosis of the bowel. In cases where a stenosis is suspected, it is warranted to perform a patency capsule swallow before subjecting the patient to a capsule endoscopy.
PMCID: PMC3874342  PMID: 24392238
22.  Plain Abdominal Radiographs: Can we Interpret Them? 
Plain abdominal radiographs commonly form a part of medical assessments. Most of these films are interpreted by the clinicians who order them. Interpretation of these films plays an important diagnostic role and, therefore, influences the decision for admission and subsequent management of these patients. The aim of this study was to find out how well doctors in different specialties and grades interpreted plain abdominal radiographs.
A total of 76 doctors from the Departments of Accident & Emergency, Medicine, Surgery and Radiology (17, 32, 23 and 4, respectively) participated in the study which involved giving a diagnosis for each of 14 plain abdominal radiographs (5 ‘normal’ and 9 ‘abnormal’). They were also asked the upper limit of normal dimensions of small bowel and large bowel. One point was awarded for correctly identifying whether a radiograph was normal/abnormal, 1 point for the correct diagnosis and 1 point for the correct bowel dimensions, giving a total score of 30.
Mean scores out of 30 for specialties were as follows: Accident & Emergency 13.1 (range, 2–22), Medicine 11.2 (range, 2–23), Surgery 15.0 (range, 8–24) and Radiology 17.0 (range, 14–20; P = 0.241). Mean scores out of 30 for different grades of doctors were as follows: pre-registration house officers 10.8 (range, 4–20), senior house officers 13.0 (range, 2–22), registrars/staff grades 13.8 (range, 2–23) and consultants 17.3 (range, 12–24; P = 0.028). Fifteen out of 76 (19.7%) doctors correctly identified the upper limit of normal dimension of small bowel; 24 out of 76 (31.6%) correctly identified the upper limit of normal dimension of large bowel.
The level of seniority positively correlated with skills of plain abdominal radiograph interpretation. A large number of doctors were unable to give the correct upper limit of normal dimensions for small and large bowel.
All doctors could benefit from further training in the interpretation of plain abdominal radiographs. This could perhaps take place as formal teaching sessions and be included in induction programmes. Until then, plain abdominal films should ideally be reported by radiologists where there are clinical uncertainties; important management decisions made by junior doctors based on these films should at least be confirmed with a registrar, if not a consultant.
PMCID: PMC1963616  PMID: 16460633
Radiography; Abdominal; Clinical competence; Medical staff
23.  Law enforcement duties and sudden cardiac death among police officers in United States: case distribution study 
Objective To assess the association between risk of sudden cardiac death and stressful law enforcement duties compared with routine/non-emergency duties.
Design Case distribution study (case series with survey information on referent exposures).
Setting United States law enforcement.
Participants Summaries of deaths of over 4500 US police officers provided by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and the Officer Down Memorial Page from 1984 to 2010.
Main outcome measures Observed and expected sudden cardiac death counts and relative risks for sudden cardiac death events during specific strenuous duties versus routine/non-emergency activities. Independent estimates of the proportion of time that police officers spend across various law enforcement duties obtained from surveys of police chiefs and front line officers. Impact of varying exposure assessments, covariates, and missing cases in sensitivity and stability analyses.
Results 441 sudden cardiac deaths were observed during the study period. Sudden cardiac death was associated with restraints/altercations (25%, n=108), physical training (20%, n=88), pursuits of suspects (12%, n=53), medical/rescue operations (8%, n=34), routine duties (23%, n=101), and other activities (11%, n=57). Compared with routine/non-emergency activities, the risk of sudden cardiac death was 34-69 times higher during restraints/altercations, 32-51 times higher during pursuits, 20-23 times higher during physical training, and 6-9 times higher during medical/rescue operations. Results were robust to all sensitivity and stability analyses.
Conclusions Stressful law enforcement duties are associated with a risk of sudden cardiac death that is markedly higher than the risk during routine/non-emergency duties. Restraints/altercations and pursuits are associated with the greatest risk. Our findings have public health implications and suggest that primary and secondary cardiovascular prevention efforts are needed among law enforcement officers.
PMCID: PMC4240529  PMID: 25406189
24.  Metal detector and swallowed metal foreign bodies in children. 
OBJECTIVE: To evaluate a metal detector to diagnose swallowed radio-opaque metal foreign bodies (MFBs) in children, and whether they can detect non-radio-opaque MFBs. METHODS: In a prospective study, 231 children, who presented to the accident and emergency department with a history of swallowing MFBs, were evaluated by the metal detector as well as radiography to confirm and locate the presence or absence of MFBs. RESULTS: A definite history of swallowing a MFB by the child was given by 186 (81%) parents. The metal detector located MFBs in 183 children and radiographs confirmed radio-opaque MFBs in 181. In the remaining 45 (19%), when swallowing was suspected and not definite, both metal detector and radiography confirmed the presence of a MFB in only four. CONCLUSION: A high detection rate of swallowed MFBs was observed in this study, using a metal detector. It is also of value to detect non-radio-opaque MFBs like aluminium. The detection of MFBs is high when the history of swallowing is definite.
PMCID: PMC1343297  PMID: 10191448
25.  Law enforcement attitudes toward overdose prevention and response 
Drug and alcohol dependence  2013;133(2):677-684.
Law enforcement is often the first to respond to medical emergencies in the community, including overdose. Due to the nature of their job, officers have also witnessed first-hand the changing demographic of drug users and devastating effects on their community associated with the epidemic of nonmedical prescription opioid use in the United States. Despite this seminal role, little data exist on law enforcement attitudes toward overdose prevention and response.
We conducted key informant interviews as part of a 12-week Rapid Assessment and Response (RAR) process that aimed to better understand and prevent nonmedical prescription opioid use and overdose deaths in locations in Connecticut and Rhode Island experiencing overdose “outbreaks.” Interviews with 13 law enforcement officials across three study sites were analyzed to uncover themes on overdose prevention and naloxone.
Findings indicated support for law enforcement involvement in overdose prevention. Hesitancy around naloxone administration by laypersons was evident. Interview themes highlighted officers’ feelings of futility and frustration with their current overdose response options, the lack of accessible local drug treatment, the cycle of addiction, and the pervasiveness of easily accessible prescription opioid medications in their communities. Overdose prevention and response, which for some officers included law enforcement-administered naloxone, were viewed as components of community policing and good police-community relations.
Emerging trends, such as existing law enforcement medical interventions and Good Samaritan Laws, suggest the need for broader law enforcement engagement around this pressing public health crisis, even in suburban and small town locations, to promote public safety.
PMCID: PMC3947507  PMID: 24051061
law enforcement; police; overdose; prescription opioid abuse; naloxone

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