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Trick of the Trade: Burned fingertips as a clinical clue

Posted Sep 08 2010 12:00am

A patient presents to your Emergency Department with altered mental status and somnolence. You don't smell alcohol on breath and you don't see needle track marks. What clinical clue points you towards cocaine or methamphetamine ingestion?

Trick of the trade:
Look for burned fingertips!

Patients who smoke crack or methamphetamines typically use a glass pipe as shown below. The glass pipes get hot and often burn the tips of people's fingers.

Crack pipe

Meth pipe

After a crack or methampethamine binge, patients often get a washed-out syndrome where their catecholamine stores are completely depleted. They sleep for hours. Often they come in this washed-out stage when they present to the ED.

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