Detecting undisclosed methamphetamine and heroin abuse is a challenge for life underwriters and medical directors. A common clinical assumption is that if substance abusers experience liver damage, it will be indicated by elevated serum transaminases. The following case suggests that assumption may not be true for heavy substance abusers who consume no or minimal alcohol.
This report describes a 44-year-old male with long-term use of inhaled combined methamphetamine and heroin (“speedballs”) and minimal alcohol use, whose transaminases remained normal while episodes of acute liver failure and transient hepatic encephalopathy from hyperammonemia were observed. In this case, a fatal motor vehicle accident occurred following the sudden onset of hepatic encephalopathy hours after consuming a “speedball.”
Normal transaminases may not be proof of a normal healthy liver among methamphetamine and heroin abusers.