Illicit Fentanyl Exposure Among Victims of Violence Treated at a Trauma Center

Published:December 08, 2022DOI:



      Opioid overdoses and violent injury are leading causes of death in the United States, yet testing for novel opioids like fentanyl remains uncommon. The purpose of this investigation is to characterize a population of victims of violence who test positive for illicit fentanyl.


      Retrospective cohort study of patients treated at a level-one trauma center between January 31, 2019 and February 21, 2020. Data were extracted from the electronic medical record. Subjects were included if they had an encounter diagnosis for a violent or intentional injury, using the International Classification of Diseases, v10 (X92-Y09). We excluded patients who received licit fentanyl as a part of their care before testing. Those who tested positive for fentanyl exposure on our standard hospital urine drug screen were considered to have been exposed to illicit fentanyl. Those testing negative for fentanyl were considered controls.


      Of the 1132 patients treated for intentional injuries during the study period, 366 were included in the study (32.3%). Of these, 133 (36.3%) subjects were exposed to illicit fentanyl prehospital. There were no demographic differences between cases and controls. Cases had a lower GCS voice score on arrival (median = 4, interquartile range [IQR] = 4-5 versus median = 5, IQR = 4-5, P = 0.02), higher rates of ventilator usage (32.3% versus 21.5%, P = 0.02), and more intensive care unit admissions (27.1% versus 12.0%, P = 0.005). More than half of cases tested negative for opiates (78/133, 58.6%). Cases had more trauma center encounters (26.3% had ≥2 visits versus 15.5%).


      Exposure to illicit fentanyl was common among victims of violence in this single-center study. These patients are at increased risk of being admitted to intensive care units and repeated trauma center visits, suggesting fentanyl testing may help identify those who could benefit from violence prevention and substance abuse treatment.


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