Immunoassay Cross-Reactivity of Phenylephrine and Methamphetamine

Authors

  • Lindsay B. Curtin Pharm.D.,

    Corresponding author
    1. Critical Care, Riddle Hospital, Media, Pennsylvania
    • Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, University of the Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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  • Michael J. Cawley Pharm.D.

    1. Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, University of the Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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For reprints, visit https://caesar.sheridan.com/reprints/redir.php?pub=10089&acro=PHAR. For questions or comments, contact Lindsay B. Curtin, Pharm.D., Riddle Hospital, 1068 W. Baltimore Pike, Media, PA 19063; e-mail: curtinl@mlhs.org.

Abstract

Phenylephrine, an α1-adrenergic agonist, and methamphetamine, a prescription drug and substance of abuse, have similar chemical structures and thus have the potential to cross-react in qualitative screening tools such as a urine drug screening (UDS) performed by immunoassay. This cross-reactivity may yield a false-positive result that may affect the provision of care in certain patient populations and clinical situations. We describe a 36-year-old woman with confirmed brain death after a short hospital stay who had an initial UDS that was negative for methamphetamine. The patient was assessed for potential organ donation, which included obtaining a follow-up UDS. A urine sample was obtained after being hospitalized for 36 hours, which tested positive for methamphetamine, with no suspected ingestion of the target substance. Confirmatory laboratory testing indicated that intravenous phenylephrine and its metabolites were the likely cause of the false-positive UDS. However, the patient was not deemed to be a suitable candidate for organ donation, but clear documentation of the reason for denial of organ donation was not available in the patient's medical record. To our knowledge, this is the first case published in the English-language literature that describes the clinical occurrence of apparent immunoassay cross-reactivity of methamphetamine and phenylephrine that resulted in a false-positive UDS for methamphetamine. In addition, this report describes the potential implications of this situation on clinical care, including organ donation acceptance. Toxicology screening in the emergency department and intensive care unit is a tool to assist in the diagnosis of medical conditions, but it may not always be reliable. Therefore, positive immunoassay results that may change the management of a patient's condition should be quickly verified with confirmatory testing to minimize unfavorable consequences.

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