From the Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report:
In addition to its use as a nutritional supplement, niacin (nicotinic acid or vitamin B3) is medically prescribed to treat hyperlipidemia and hypercholesterolemia. Use of niacin in low doses usually leads to few adverse drug reactions (ADRs); however, at larger doses, niacin can cause skin flushing, itching, and occasionally more serious effects (1). The 2005 annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers documented 3,109 reports of exposures to niacin (2). During 2006, the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center (RMPDC) in Denver, Colorado, received multiple calls regarding ADRs after nonmedical use of niacin. A review of call records indicated various uses of niacin, including attempts to alter or mask results of urine drug tests, although no scientific evidence exists that ingestion of niacin can alter a drug test result. To determine the extent of niacin use in attempts to alter drug test results, reports to RMPDC of niacin ADRs were reviewed for the period January--September 2006. The results identified 18 persons who reported nonsuicidal, intentional, nonmedical reasons for using niacin, including eight who specified altering drug test results as their reason for using niacin. Ten other persons, among an additional 18 who offered no reason for niacin use, were categorized as possible users of niacin to try to alter drug test results because of their ages or the amount of niacin ingested. Clinicians, especially those whose patients include teens and young adults, should be aware of the potential use of niacin in attempts to defeat urine drug tests.
RMPDC serves Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, and southern Nevada, a total population of approximately 10 million. RMPDC staff members searched their database for telephone calls reporting niacin exposures during January--September 2006. Calls regarding niacin exposures were divided into six categories: 1) unintentional dosing errors in therapeutic users, 2) ADRs after therapeutic use, 3) pediatric unintentional exposures, 4) suicide attempts, 5) ADRs with no reason given for niacin use, and 6) ADRs after nonsuicidal, intentional, nonmedical use. Data collected included the person's age, sex, circumstances of exposure, symptoms, and outcome. Persons who gave no reason for niacin use but were aged <30 years or who reported taking at least 1,000 mg or "large amounts" of niacin in one ingestion were cateogorized as possible users of niacin to defeat urine drug testing. The study was approved by RMPDC's institutional review board and granted a waiver of consent.
A total of 92 calls (72 from persons at home and 20 from health-care providers) reported exposures to niacin. Thirty calls (33%) reported dosing errors or ADRs after therapeutic use, 23 (25%) referred to unintentional pediatric exposures, and 18 (20%) reported ADRs after nonsuicidal, intentional, nonmedical use. An additional 18 calls (20%) reported niacin ADRs with no reason stated for the exposure. Three calls (3%) described attempted suicides.
Among the 18 persons who said their ADRs resulted from nonsuicidal, intentional, nonmedical use of niacin, the median age, excluding three adults of unknown ages, was 18 years (range: 15--50 years). Eight of the 18 persons said they took niacin (1,000 mg--8,000 mg) to alter or mask a drug screening; eight others said they took niacin (400 mg--5,000 mg) to "purify, cleanse, or flush" their bodies; and two said they used niacin as a diet pill. Among the 18 persons who gave no reason for niacin use, eight were aged <30 years, and two patients of unknown age reported taking a 2,000-mg dose and "large amounts" of niacin, respectively; under the case definition, those 10 persons were categorized as possible users of niacin to defeat urine drug testing.
Calls regarding the 18 persons who either said their ADRs resulted from attempts to alter drug test results or who were categorized as possible users of niacin for that purpose came from all five states covered by RMPDC. Twelve calls came from Colorado, two from Idaho, and one each from Hawaii, Montana, and southern Nevada; one call came from California via a manufacturer's hotline telephone number. Among the 28 who either gave a nonmedical reason for niacin use (18 persons) or who stated no reason but were categorized as possible users of niacin to alter drug test results (10 persons), the most common ADRs reported were tachycardia, flushed skin, rash, nausea, and vomiting. Thirteen of the 28 were treated at or referred to a health-care facility. No deaths were reported.
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