Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
Since heroin is delivered to a selected group of drug addicts under supervision of nurses in the Netherlands, we reported about several nurses who presented with work-related eczema and positive patch tests to heroin. To investigate the prevalence of heroin contact allergy among all workers in this heroin delivery project, a study was started using questionnaires. Altogether 31 nurses reported work-related complaints out of 100 who returned questionnaires. Besides reports of eczema, mainly of eyelids (probably airborne) and hands, there were mucosal and respiratory complaints. Patch tests were performed in 25 nurses with complaints; in 9 of them a heroin contact allergy could be confirmed. In 6 out of these 9 nurses this was combined with mucosal or respiratory complaints. There were also 6 nurses with mucosal or respiratory complaints without a contact allergy. Contact dermatitis from opioids, such as morphine and codeine, has been documented among opioid industry workers, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and in patients. In conclusion heroin appears to be a potent contact allergen, causing contact dermatitis. Mucosal and respiratory complaints however, cannot be explained by this contact allergy; they might be caused by a type-1-allergy to heroin, or by a direct histamine liberating effect. Opioids are known histamine liberators causing urticaria, rhinitis and anaphylactoid reactions; therefore intracutaneous tests with heroin are unreliable. In an ongoing research project it will be attempted to detect specific IgE to heroin in the 12 workers with mucosal or respiratory complaints; within the next few months results will be available.
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