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Doctors’ knowledge of the appropriate use and route of administration of antidotes in the management of recreational drug toxicity


Background: Specific antidotes (eg, naloxone, flumazenil, cyproheptadine and benzodiazepines) are available for the management of certain recreational drug-induced toxicities. Some controversies surround the use of some of these antidotes, especially flumazenil in benzodiazepine toxicity. There are no previously published data on doctors’ knowledge of the use of these specific antidotes.

Methods: A questionnaire survey was designed to determine internal/emergency medicine doctors’ knowledge of the appropriate use of antidotes in the management of clinical scenarios of acutely poisoned patients. For nine simulated clinical scenarios of acute toxicity from recreational drugs (benzodiazepines, cocaine, N-methyl-l-(3, 4-methylene-dioxyphenyl)-2-aminopropane (MDMA)-induced serotonin toxicity and opioids), they were asked to indicate whether the suggested antidote and route of administration were correct.

Results: 42 physicians of all grades completed the questionnaire. The mean correct score was 5.4 (SD 1.1) (median 6, interquartile range 5–7). The percentages correct for the various clinical scenarios were 68.3% for opioid toxicity, 81% for benzodiazepine toxicity, 28.6% for MDMA-induced serotonin toxicity and 70.2% for cocaine toxicity. Doctors were more likely to record an answer of “unsure” for the use of cyproheptadine in ST serotonin toxicity (28.6%) compared with the use of the other antidotes (1.4%; p<0.001).

Conclusion: Knowledge of the appropriate use of antidotes in recreational drug toxicity is not consistent, with poorer knowledge on the use of newer antidotes such as cyproheptadine in serotonin toxicity. Education is required both to increase overall knowledge on the use of specific antidotes in the management of recreational drug-induced toxicity, as well as focusing on newer antidotes such as cyproheptadine.

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