Prevalence of heroin markers in urine for pain management patients

Julie Knight, Brandi L. Puet, Anne DePriest, Rebecca Heltsley, Cheryl Hild, David L. Black, Timothy Robert, Yale H. Caplan, Edward J. Cone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Surveys of current trends indicate heroin abuse is associated with nonmedical use of pain relievers. Consequently, there is an interest in evaluating the presence of heroin-specific markers in chronic pain patients who are prescribed controlled substances. A total of 926,084 urine specimens from chronic pain patients were tested for heroin/diacetylmorphine (DAM), 6-acetylmorphine (6AM), 6-acetylcodeine (6AC), codeine (COD), and morphine (MOR). Heroin and markers were analyzed using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS-MS). Opiates were analyzed following hydrolysis using LC-MS-MS. The prevalence of heroin use was 0.31%, as 2871 were positive for one or more heroin-specific markers including DAM, 6AM, or 6AC (a known contaminant of illicit heroin). Of these, 1884 were additionally tested for the following markers of illicit drug use: 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), methamphetamine (MAMP), 11-nor-9-carboxy-δ9-tetracannabinol (THCCOOH), and benzoylecgonine (BZE); 654 (34.7%) had positive findings for one or more of these analytes. The overall prevalence of heroin markers were as follows: DAM 1203 (41.9%), 6AM 2570 (89.5%), 6AC 1082 (37.7%). MOR was present in 2194 (76.4%) and absent (<LOQ) in 677 (23.6%) of the heroin-positive specimens. COD was present in 1218 (42.4%) specimens. Prevalence of combinations for specimens containing MOR were as follows: DAM only 13 (0.59%), 6AM only 1140 (52.0%), 6AC only 24 (1.1%), DAM/6AM/6AC 710 (32.4%), 6AM/6AC 188 (8.6%), DAM/6AM 113 (5.2%), DAM/6AC 6 (0.27%). Importantly, the prevalence of combinations for specimens without MOR were as follows: DAM only 161 (23.8%), 6AM only 217 (32.1%), 6AC only 92 (13.6%), DAM/6AM/6AC 50 (7.4%), 6AM/6AC 7 (1.0%), DAM/6AM 145 (21.4%), DAM/6AC 5 (0.74%). Unexpected patterns of excretion were observed, such as the presence of DAM and 6AC in the absence of 6AM and MOR; therefore, multiple heroin markers may be useful to assess for heroin use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-83
Number of pages5
JournalForensic Science International
StatePublished - Oct 2014


  • 6AM
  • Compliance monitoring
  • Heroin
  • Pain management
  • Urine drug testing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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