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Alcohol Measurements Debated

August 01, 1985|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

The measurements used to determine whether motorists are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs have been called misleading and erroneous in a recent article in Analytical Chemistry, a monthly journal published by the American Chemical Society.

The report was written by David N. Hume, retired Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemistry professor, and Edward F. Fitzgerald, a trial lawyer who specializes in cases involving alcohol consumption.

They question the accuracy of both blood and breath tests used by law enforcement officers to determine blood alcohol levels. The article is also critical of the 0.10% blood alcohol level that is generally accepted as designating whether an individual is sober or impaired.

Aimed at Blood Tests

Most of the authors' complaints are directed at the blood tests. This measurement can be misleading, they state, because the effects of alcohol vary among individuals. Alcohol tolerance, drinking habits/experience and food consumption all affect performance but are not considered as factors in this test.

"Rates of digestion and stomach emptying vary greatly with individuals and with the kinds and amounts of food consumed. A heavy meal with a high fat content may take four or six hours to be digested, with a corresponding delay in alcohol absorption. Alcohol on an empty stomach, however, tends to be absorbed completely in 20 to 60 minutes," the report states.

Consequently, an individual's blood alcohol content would rise over a considerable period of time after having consumed several drinks during the course of a large meal. Thus, a measurement taken an hour or so after an incident such as a motor vehicle accident might be biased in showing a higher blood alcohol level than would an identical test at the scene.

Problems With Breath Tests

Hume and Fitzgerald stated that breath tests were even less accurate because they report on blood alcohol levels based on calculations that also fail to take into account individual characteristics.

A more accurate picture of an individual's sobriety would be to use a combination of the blood, breath and urine tests, the authors claim.

Misfortune Breeds Opportunists--The graphic news coverage of President Reagan's colon cancer has made the public increasingly aware of this particular illness. This new interest has quickly prompted publishers to promote books on the subject.

One of the first to distribute a press release in this vein is the George F. Stickley Co., which has published "All About Cancer" by Dr. Jay S. Roth. The Philadelphia-based publishing house supplied information on the book, which was written in a most urgent tone. Some of the more alarming passages state, "Knowing all about cancer can help protect you and your family"; and " 'All About Cancer' is an important book that may save lives."

This potentially life-saving tome is available for only $24.95 in hardback and $17.50 in soft cover at most bookstores.

The normally anti-commercial Center for Science in the Public Interest is also re-emphasizing its previously released "The Anti-Cancer Eating Guide" timed to coincide with the President's recovery.

Promoters and Protectors

The guide is actually a "fact-filled poster" that lists the type of foods thought to be "cancer promoters" alongside those considered "cancer protectors." The listing incorporates recommendations from the National Cancer Institute, National Academy of Sciences and other federal agencies.

The current promotion for "The Anti-Cancer Eating Guide" was the result of increased public demand. "News of President Reagan's colon cancer has sparked numerous requests for information about the links between diet and that disease," the center explains.

Those interested in obtaining the poster can send $3.50 to the center at 1501 16th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. A laminated version is also available for $7.

Pork Tapeworm Increasing--Increased media attention directed toward various health problems ranging from colon cancer to the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria found in Jalisco cheese makes a recent state health bulletin especially interesting. This time around, the issue is pork tapeworm and the incidence of this infection in humans.

Once thought to be restricted to the underdeveloped areas of the world, the problem has spread to the United States and is becoming increasingly common in the Los Angeles area. Most cases result from the ingestion of the tapeworm larvae or eggs in undercooked pork. The infection can also be passed from one human to another as a result of poor hygiene.

Nervous System Affected

The advanced stages of this tapeworm invasion causes an illness called, cysticercosis, which affects the central nervous system. The symptoms include seizures, headache and neurological deficiency, according to a report by the California Department of Health Services' Infectious Disease Section.

State health officials found 250 cases of cysticercosis in California during a five-year period beginning in 1979. Another study by the Centers for Disease Control reported that four Los Angeles area hospitals treated 458 cases of cysticercosis during a 10-year period beginning in 1973.

The report on cysticercosis did not indict local supplies of pork as being the cause of the problem. Rather, investigators believe the spread of pork tapeworm is likely to be caused by infected humans bringing the problem to this area. An increased awareness of the infection by medical authorities has placed it in the spotlight.

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