CDC Health Advisory about Outbreak of Life-threatening Coagulopathy Associated with Synthetic Cannabinoids Use

PUBLISHED: May 25, 2018
Relevant to: Ambulatory Care, Behavioral Health, Clinical Lab, Community Mental Health Centers, Critical Access Hospitals, Dialysis Facilities, Hospitals, Medical Office, Pharmacy

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Health Advisory about:

  • The current status of a multistate outbreak of coagulopathy from exposure to synthetic cannabinoid products containing a vitamin K-dependent antagonist agent, such as brodifacoum
  • Signs and symptoms of presenting patients from this outbreak and which patients are at risk
  • Laboratory testing options that are available to help identify and classify cases
  • Available resources that may help clinicians make decisions
  • Reporting obligations

Outbreak Background:

In March 2018, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported cases of unexplained bleeding among patients who reported using synthetic cannabinoids. Subsequent testing of drug and biological samples from case-patients detected the presence of brodifacoum, a long-acting vitamin K-dependent antagonist that is used as a rodenticide.

The CDC is currently coordinating national surveillance activities for possible cases of vitamin K-dependent antagonist coagulopathy associated with synthetic cannabinoids use. Since the index case was identified in Illinois on March 3, 2018, state health departments have reported 202 cases, including five deaths, to CDC. Case patients have been identified in nine states with the majority being reported from Illinois (n=164). Maryland has reported 20 cases. Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin have reported six or fewer cases per state. More than 95 of case-patient biological samples have tested positive for brodifacoum. The current working hypothesis is that brodifacoum was mixed with synthetic cannabinoids products.

Case-patients from this outbreak have presented with a variety of signs and symptoms of coagulopathy (e.g., bruising, nosebleeds, excessively heavy menstrual bleeding, hematemesis, hemoptysis, hematuria, flank pain, abdominal pain, and bleeding gums or mouth). In addition, some patients have been asymptomatic or presented with complaints unrelated to bleeding but have had numerical coagulopathy that may put them at risk for bleeding complications resulting from injuries and invasive or surgical procedures. Patients should be considered high-risk for coagulopathy if they have reported use of or are suspected of using synthetic cannabinoids.

The most helpful and commonly available laboratory test to help identify cases is the International Normalized Ratio (INR) that is part of a routine coagulation profile. An abnormal INR is defined as being outside the reference laboratory value. For case reporting purposes, an INR>2 is being used as a criteria to help identify and classify possible cases. Case confirmation requires detection of brodifacoum in blood, serum, plasma, or urine, as determined by reference laboratory testing. Clinicians and healthcare providers should work with their healthcare facility’s laboratory to determine what options are available to them for brodifacoum testing.


Recommendations for Clinicians

  1. Maintain a high index of suspicion for vitamin K-dependent antagonist coagulopathy in patients with a history or suspicion of using synthetic cannabinoids. Patients may present with clinical signs of coagulopathy, bleeding unrelated to an injury, or bleeding without another explanation. Some patients may be asymptomatic or present with complaints unrelated to bleeding but have numerical coagulopathy. NOTE: Some patients may not divulge synthetic cannabinoids use.
  2. Ask all patients about history of illicit drug use. All high-risk patients (e.g., those reporting synthetic cannabinoids use or those who are suspected of synthetic cannabinoids use within the last three months), regardless of their presentation, should be screened for vitamin K-dependent antagonist coagulopathy by checking their coagulation profile (e.g., INR).
  3. Possible cases should be asked if they have recently donated plasma or blood (e.g., in the last three months). Clinicians treating possible cases who have recently donated plasma or blood should notify their state health department, who can then notify the FDA.
  4. Proceduralists (e.g., trauma/general/orthopedic/oral/OB-GYN/cosmetic surgeons, dentists, interventional cardiologists/radiologists, and nephrologists) should be aware that patients with a history of using synthetic cannabinoids may be anti-coagulated without clinical signs of coagulopathy. These patients should be screened for vitamin K-dependent antagonist coagulopathy prior to their procedure.
  5. Patients sent home from surgeries or other procedures that could result in bleeding should be told not to use synthetic cannabinoids because of the risk that the product may be contaminated with an anticoagulant.
  6. Contact your local poison control center (1-800-222-1222) for questions on diagnostic testing and management of these patients.
  7. Promptly report possible cases to your local or state health department.

For additional information, including detailed background on synthetic cannabinoids, recommendations for public health officials and the public as well as links to additional resources, follow the link below.

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