Contaminated Blood, new potential risk to UK blood supply from synthetic cannabinoids: Have lessons been learnt from the past?

A man and women down the side of Debenhams Manchester England where the drug Spice induces a zombie-like state and could pose a safety risk to the UK blood supply

(Image: Manchester Evening News)

A Public Inquiry into how haemophiliacs came to be infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood has now finally been launched in the UK after decades of alleged cover-ups by government, the medical profession and pharmaceutical companies. The Inquiry also includes those who were infected through whole blood transfusions though haemophilia and whole blood are completely separate cases that came under very different legal arguements.

Many haemophiliacs received blood products called factor concentrates for an inherited disorder where their blood does not clot. These products were often manufactured from the pooled plasma of thousands of paid US prison donors with many alleged safety violations and human rights abuses affecting both blood donors and recipients. Haemophiliacs were repeatedly exposed to multiple viruses. In contrast, whole blood recipients received British blood from a small number of unpaid donors usually in a one off exposure to a single virus at a time before screening for HIV and hepatitis C was introduced. Haemophiliacs are a specific patient group whereas those who had whole blood were given blood for many different reasons such as pregnancy, car accident or for blood loss during a violent attack such as a stabbing.

An important question now arises on blood safety… Has the UK learnt from past mistakes and are authoritities on the alert for any new dangers in blood supplies at home and abroad? I suspect not!

US blood safety alerts over synthetic cannabinoids

In recent days, this author has become aware of new safety alerts from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) which could potentially also affect blood safety in the UK. The recent alert focuses on safety concerns regarding synthetic drugs (cannabinoids, marijuana) such as K2, Spice and AK47 that appear to originate from China. These drugs put both those taking them at risk and persons receiving any blood they may have donated through selling their blood at collection centres. The practise of “blood for money” is common in the US and known to increase risk as blood donors may not be as honest in answering health questions where there is a financial reward.

On the 20th July 2018, USA Today reported that the FDA had issued warnings after synthetic marijuana tainted with rat poison had sickened many people, the publication states,

Federal health officials are warning the public about a version of synthetic marijuana laced with rat poison that’s caused uncontrolled bleeding in hundreds of people and killed several others who have ingested the tainted products. 

The synthetic cannabinoid, sold under names such as Spice, K2 and AK 47, has hospitalized people in 10 states since early March. That’s when health officials in Illinois discovered people at hospital emergency rooms with severe bleeding had ingested synthetic marijuana laced with brodifacoum, a lethal anticoagulant found in rat poison.

The article goes on to say that the FDA highlighted that these illegal products were “unfit for human consumption” and a “significant public health concern” for people who smoke synthetic marijuana and the U.S. blood supply,

Officials said the illegal drugs are associated with adverse health effects such as rapid heart rate, vomiting, increased blood pressure, reduced blood supply to the heart, kidney damage and seizures. Users also have exhibited violent behavior or expressed suicidal thoughts.

https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/07/20/fda-warning-synthetic-marijuana-rat-poison/802585002/

The full statement from the FDA concerning risks issued on the 19th July 2018 can be read on the following link.

Statement from FDA warning about significant health risks of contaminated illegal synthetic cannabinoid products that are being encountered by FDA

https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm614027.htm

The CDC alert can be read here,

Outbreak Alert: Potential Life-Threatening Vitamin K-Dependent Antagonist Coagulopathy Associated with Synthetic Cannabinoids Use

CDC noted,

  • Three patients in Illinois were discovered to have donated plasma prior to admission to hospital for treatment. This issue has not been reported in Indiana or Wisconsin. Cases were reported to and advice was requested from CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Questions regarding plasma/blood donation are added to the case questionnaires. Previous patients were followed up in this regard and new patients are asked about plasma/blood donations.

https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USCDC/bulletins/1e6dac3

On August 2nd, reporter Jim Spiewak (KUTV) reporting from Salt Lake City Utah highlighted changes to the way blood is collected including 4 new steps taken by the Red Cross to minimise risk to blood recipients. The Red Cross now warns that “anyone who’s used synthetic drugs since March should not donate blood.” Spiewak’s report can be viewed here,

FDA warns synthetic drug use could contaminate blood donations

https://kutv.com/news/local/fda-warns-synthetic-drug-use-could-contaminate-blood-donations

AABB also put out a statement

Regulatory Updates: Warning Refarding Synthetic Marijuana Use by Plasma and Blood Donors

http://www.aabb.org/advocacy/regulatorygovernment/Pages/Warnings-Regarding-Synthetic-Marijuana-Use-by-Plasma-and-Blood-Donors.aspx

Blood safety concerns for the UK

Although these alerts are for the US, the UK must learn from past mistakes and take action now to ensure the safety of our own blood supply. The use of Spice has now reach “epidemic” proportions in the UK as shown in a recent article in the Manchester Evening news. A distressing video showed users in a zombie like state filed one afternoon in the city centre, see following link,

“The pale wasted figures caught in a Spice nightmare thats turning Piccadilly Gardens into a hell on earth”

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/spice-nightmare-manchester-city-centre-12870520

See also, the following article from chemist Dr Simon Cotton,

Synthetic Spice: The science behind the drug

https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/perspective/synthetic-spice.aspx

Although most haemophiliacs now receive synthetic plasma, some may still require blood transfusions during liver transplantation and other medical procedures and must be ever on the alert. Receiving blood from a person taking a synthetic drug which causes bleeding could be disastrous for haemophiliacs

Although most haemophiliacs now receive synthetic plasma products for their bleeding condition, some may still need blood transfusions during liver transplantation following hepatitis C infection or for other medical procedures and must be ever on the alert. A blood donation from a person that has taken a synthetic drug which causes bleeding could be disastrous to a person with a clotting disorder. Haemophiliacs are often regarded as the “canaries in the coalmine” so whatever blood borne viruses and other blood hazards are out there will usually show up later in the general public.

The toxicity of these synthetic drugs have been highlighted in a recent Guardian article where nurses attending to prisoners have been affected by second-hand smoke, even “knocked unconscious”. What would be the impact regarding a person being injected intra venously with blood from a donor that had taken Spice? See following link,

“The spice epidemic in UK prisons is putting nurses at risk”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/16/spice-epidemic-uk-prisons-nurses-psychoactive-drugs-jails

Is there a risk to blood safety from dangerous diet pills?

Then there are dangerous diet pills which are known to have killed and affect metabolism and could potentially cause harm to anyone receiving their blood. In the UK blood donors are asked which medication they take and are excluded depending on their replies. Perhaps questions should specifically be asked about whether an individual is or has recently taken diet pills which contain 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP). As Dr Simon Cotton states,

“DNP is a highly toxic and very dangerous substance, and it was even used to fill shells as an explosive during World War I…. the use of DNP in humans has been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 1938. The UK Food Standards Agency have also said that ‘it is not fit for human consumption’.”

“DNP is very toxic, people have got lethal doses just by absorbing it through the skin. If you have taken too much, you can’t go back on it, there is no antidote”

https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/chemistry/news/2018/birmingham-chemist-warns-against-taking-diet-pills.aspx

Campaigners on blood safety will now make representation to government to ensure that they are aware of new FDA and CDC guidelines on blood safety so that they can be examined and where necessary implemented in the UK also. Those responsible for blood safety also need to check out the potential impact of being exposed to the ingredients of diet pills via blood donation. Dr Simon Cotton spoke to the Birmingham Mail and was quoted as saying, “the commercial use of DNP is as a pesticide or herbicide and, in 2009, 11 workers in a Chinese chemical factory – plus nine of their relatives – contracted DNP poisoning, their skins turned yellow or even black and two died.”

The history of contaminated blood has shown us a valuable lesson. UK authorities were notoriously slow to pick up on early alerts from the US in relation to HIV/AIDS and hepatitis and implement recalls of blood products and key safety measures. Now what has been learnt from previous mistakes should ensure the highest safety measures are in place to avoid further contamination of blood supplies. Those affected by this scandal do not want a repeat of the past where many lives were lost!

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a former Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development (Distinction). Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.

About Carol Anne Grayson

Blogging for Humanity.... Campaigner/researcher global health/human rights/drones/WOT/insurgency http://www.esrc.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/PO/experts/Health_and_Wellbeing.aspx Exec Producer of Oscar nominated documentary Incident in New Baghdad, currently filming on drones.
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