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Morphine in breast milk


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Vol 53:  june • juin 2007 Canadian Family PhysicianLe Médecin de famille canadien


Correspondance  Letters

but  we  don’t  share  it.  Nor  is  it  consistent  with  the  feedback  we  have  received  from  family  doctors.  We  have  had  inquiries  since  this  article  was  published  from  doctors  wanting  to  improve  analgesia  in  their  obstetric  practices,  including  GP-anesthetists  hoping  to  provide  a  service  that  is  less  labour  intensive  than  an epidural service. I note that many communities our  size and larger provide no obstetric analgesia service  of any kind because of the onerous time commitments  that the epidural service entails. In our experience this  time-efficient  procedure  has  allowed  us  to  provide  a  comprehensive  obstetric  analgesia  service,  including  ITN and occasional epidurals.

If this article has piqued the interest of any family  doctors  to  consider  providing  ITN  during  labour,  we  are confident they will be able to perform the due dil- igence  to  safely  implement  the  program.  We  believe  that  family  medicine  training  in  Canada  is  specifi- cally  designed  to  give  our  doctors  the  skills  to  start  providing  new  services  as  they  evolve.  This  is  not  to dismiss the complex infrastructure set up in all of  our hospitals that supports and ensures the provision  of  safe  services.  These  include,  but  are  not  limited  to  our  hospital  boards,  medical  advisory  commit- tees, risk management departments, obstetric service  departments, capable nursing staff and mangers, and  hospital pharmacists.

—R.G. Minty MD FCFP

—Len Kelly MD MClinSc CCFP FCFP

—Alana Minty

—D.C. Hammett MD CCFP FRACGP Sioux Lookout, Ont by e-mail

Morphine in breast milk


read in the January issue of Canadian Family Physician  about  the  tragic  death  of  the  baby  resulting  from  the  breastfeeding  mother  taking  acetaminophen  and  codeine.1  “Following  the  development  of  poor  neona- tal feeding, the mother expressed milk and stored it in 

a freezer. Analysis of the milk for morphine … revealed  a  concentration  of  87  ng/mL.… The  morphine  mea- surement  was  further  confirmed  by  gas  chromatogra- phy–mass spectrometry. “1

I have 2 questions.

Question  1:  At  87  ng/mL,  1000  mL  of  breast  milk  would  contain  at  total  of  87  µg  of  morphine.  How  can  such a small quantity be toxic to a baby that drinks only  60-90 mL at a time?

Also, “mass spectrometry revealed a blood concen- tration  of  morphine  at  70  ng/mL  and  acetaminophen  at  5.9  µg/mL.  Neonates  receiving  morphine  for  anal- gesia  have  been  reported  to  have  serum  concentra- tions of morphine at 10 to 12 ng/mL.” 1

Question  2:  How  can  such  small  quantities  of  mor- phine in breast milk cause such high blood levels in the  infant? 

—Mitch Young MD Manchester, NH by e-mail Reference

1. Madadi P, Koren G, Cairns J, Chitayat D, Gaedigk A, Leeder JS, et al. 

Safety of codeine during breastfeeding. Fatal morphine poisoning in the  breastfed neonate of a mother prescribed codeine. Can Fam Physician  2007;53:33-5.



e  wish  to  thank  Dr  Young  for  his  interest  in  our  Motherisk  Update,  and  for  his  thoughtful  observations.

The  dose  of  87  μg/L  of  milk  calculated  by  him  is  not “such a small quantity” for a newborn. In fact, it is  30 μg/kg. In older infants a dose of 50 μg/kg is used  for  sedation.  The  newborn  has  much  lower  capacity  to  deactivate  morphine.1  Moreover,  the  newborn  has  substantially higher sensitivity to the central effects of  morphine,  partially  due  to  more  penetration  through  the blood-brain barrier.2

Last, as we indicated in the paper, the homozygoc- ity the child exhibited to glucuronidation of morphine 



Canadian Family PhysicianLe Médecin de famille canadien Vol 53:  june • juin 2007

Letters  Correspondance

might  be  associated  with  higher  levels  of  the  morphine-6-glucuronide  metabolite,  which  is  many  times  more  active  than  morphine.  We  have  not  mea- sured  this  metabolite  in  milk,  but  we  are  now  in  the  process of doing so.

With research support from Genome Canada, we are  currently  studying  the  prevalence  and  risk  of  codeine  use while breastfeeding.

—Gideon Koren MD FRCPC Director, Motherisk Program Hospital for Sick Children Toronto, Ont

—Parvaz Madadi London, Ont by e-mail References

1. Bouwmeester NJ, Anderson BJ, Tibboel D, Holford NH. Developmental phar- macokinetics of morphine and its metabolites in neonates, infants and young  children. Br J Anaesth 2004;92:208-17.

2.  Rai A, Bhalla S, Rebello SS, Katrissios H, Gulati A. Disposition of morphine in  plasma and cerebrospinal fluid varies during neonatal development in pigs. J Pharm Pharmacol 2005;57:981-6.

A gulf of difference


have read with interest the article written by Dr I. Neil  Grant  which  was  published  in  the  April  2007  issue 

under the title “Listen to thy heart, and write” (Can Fam Physician 2007;53:702-3).

I  noticed  that  Dr  Grant  made  a  mistake,  which  was  also  missed  by Canadian Family Physician,  by  referring  to the Arabian Gulf. The correct name is Persian Gulf.

—Kourosh Dinyari MD Edmonton, Alta by e-mail

Editor’s note


lthough the name Arabian Gulf is often used to refer  to the body of water in question, the United Nations  has confirmed that Persian Gulf is the official term to be  used by members of the United Nations.



n  the  article  “Diagnosing  streptococcal  sore  throat  in  adults”  in  the  April  2007  issue  (Can Fam Physician  2007;53:666-71),  one  of  the  authors,  Joseph  Griffiths,  was  incorrectly  listed  as  a  PhD  candidate  holding  an  MSc degree. Mr Griffiths is currently a candidate for the  MSc  at  the  University  of  Waterloo  in  Ontario. Canadian Family Physician apologizes for this error.

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