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Original article

Vol. 151 No. 5152 (2021)

Presentations with reported methamphetamine use to an urban emergency department in Switzerland

  • Valerie Romann
  • Monika Illgen
  • Adrian Derungs
  • Jolanta Klukowska-Rötzler
  • Meret E. Ricklin
  • Aristomenis Exadaktylos
  • Evangelia Liakoni
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2021;151:w30099


AIMS OF THE STUDY: The stimulant methamphetamine (e.g., “crystal meth”) is a commonly abused drug in many parts of the world and can cause significant health problems. The present study aims to describe presentations with reported methamphetamine use at an urban emergency department (ED) in Switzerland, to investigate prevalence, patterns and susceptible groups.

METHODS: Retrospective study at the ED of the University Hospital of Bern, Switzerland. Cases from June 2012 to July 2019 were retrieved from the electronic patient database using full-text terms and were categorised into three groups based on patient history: “acute”, if patients presented within 72 hours of last reported use, “chronic” in cases of regular use but not within the previous 72 hours, and “past” in cases of discontinued consumption. Cases with a positive methamphetamine urine drug screening test with no further information available were described separately.

RESULTS: During the study period, 40 cases were categorised as “acute”. Among those, the mean age was 29.5 years (standard deviation [SD] 8.7), 75% (n = 30) were male, and agitation (n = 11, 28%), hypertension (n = 11, 28%), tachycardia (n = 11, 28%), sleep disturbances (n = 10, 25%) and aggression (n = 8, 20%) were the most common symptoms. Most patients (n = 22, 55%) were medically discharged, but 35% (n = 14) were admitted to a psychiatric clinic. Most (n = 33, 82.5%) were polydrug users, with alcohol, cocaine and cannabis being the most frequent co-used substances. The “chronic” group included 37 cases. Those patients were mostly male (n = 26, 70%), with a mean age of 31 years (SD 11.0), and 46% (n = 17) presented because of psychiatric symptoms, such as psychosis, depression or aggression. Of the 45 cases in the “past” group (mean age of 30 years, SD 8.6), 69% (n = 31) were male, and 49% (n = 22) and 24% (n = 11), respectively, had medical and psychiatric symptoms as the reason for admission. Of 61 cases with a positive urine drug screening test as the sole indicator of methamphetamine use, 19 patients reported MDMA use (cross-reactivity with methamphetamine in the urine immunoassay used). In the 42 remaining cases, it was unclear if the positive result was due to unreported methamphetamine use or cross-reactivity.

CONCLUSIONS: Most patients with reported methamphetamine use were young and male, with signs of sympathomimetic arousal and/or psychiatric symptoms. Although ED visits with reports of methamphetamine use appear to be uncommon, consumption-related health problems can require significant pre- and in-hospital resources.


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