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Pediatr Emerg Care. 2011 Jun;27(6):490-5. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0b013e31821d860f.

Illicit drug exposure in patients evaluated for alleged child abuse and neglect.

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Department of Pediatrics, Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA.



Substantiation of drug exposure in cases with alleged maltreatment is important to provide proper treatment and services to these children and their families. A study performed at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics showed that 30% of pediatric patients with burn injuries, which were due to child maltreatment, were also exposed to illicit drugs.


The children presenting to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics with alleged maltreatment have been tested for illicit substances since 2004. The objective of this study was to analyze the presence of illicit drug exposure in the pediatric subpopulation admitted to pediatric inpatient and outpatient units for an evaluation for abuse/neglect.


The study design is a retrospective chart review. Using hospital databases, every pediatric chart with a child abuse/neglect allegation was retrieved. The association between risk factors and clinical presentation and illicit drug test result was assessed. Excel and SAS were used for statistical analysis. Institutional review board approval was obtained to conduct this study.


Six hundred sixty-five charts met study inclusion criteria for child abuse/neglect allegation. Of those, 232 cases were tested for illicit drugs between 2004 and 2008 per the testing protocol. Thirty-four cases (14.7%) tested positive on a drug test. Positive test rates based on clinical presentation were 28.6% (18/63) in neglect cases, 16.1% (5/31) in cases with soft tissue injuries, 14.3% (4/28) in burn injuries, 10.0% (2/20) in cases with sexual abuse, 7.1% (2/28) in cases with fractures, and 4.8% (3/62) in abusive head trauma cases. There were long-term abuse findings in 129 children (55.6%). Logistic regression analysis revealed that positive drug testing was most significantly associated with clinical symptoms suggesting physical abuse or neglect versus sexual abuse (odds ratio [OR] = 6.70; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.26-35.49; P = 0.026), no or public health insurance versus those with private insurance (OR = 4.49; 95% CI, 1.47-13.66; P = 0.008), history of parental drug abuse versus those without parental history of drug abuse (OR = 3.42; 95% CI, 1.38-8.46; P = 0.008), and history of domestic violence versus those without a history of domestic violence (OR = 2.81; 95% CI, 1.08-7.30; P = 0.034).


The results of this study showed that an illicit drug screening protocol used in the assessment of children evaluated for child abuse identified almost 15% of the population of allegedly abused and neglected children who were tested according to a protocol being exposed to illicit drugs. Thus, routine drug testing of at least children assessed for neglect and nonaccidental burn and soft tissue injuries, children with a history of either parental drug use or domestic violence is recommended.

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