Drug use disorder following early life exposure to tetrachloroethylene (PCE)-contaminated drinking water: a retrospective cohort study


Background: Many studies of adults with occupational exposure to solvents such as tetrachloroethylene (PCE) have shown adverse effects on cognition, mood and behavioral problems. Much less is known about neurotoxic effects in early life at lower exposure levels seen in community settings. We recently reported that illicit drug use was more frequent among adults from Cape Cod, Massachusetts who were exposed to PCE-contaminated drinking water during gestation and early childhood than their unexposed counterparts. Using newly collected data from this population-based retrospective cohort study, the current analysis examines whether early life PCE exposure is also associated with drug use disorder over the life course.

Methods: Three-hundred and sixty-three subjects with prenatal and early childhood PCE exposure and 255 unexposed subjects were studied. These individuals (median age: 40-41 years) completed self-administered questionnaires on the eleven established diagnostic criteria for drug use disorder and confounding variables. A validated leaching and transport model was used to estimate exposure to PCE-contaminated water.

Results: Overall, 23.3% of subjects reported having at least one criterion for drug use disorder over their lifetime. Early life PCE exposure was associated with a modest increase in the lifetime presence of one or more diagnostic criteria for drug use disorder (adjusted RR: 1.4, 95% CI: 1.0-1.8). Compared to unexposed subjects, PCE-exposed subjects were more likely to report having most diagnostic criteria of drug use disorder, including neglecting major roles due to drug use, physical and psychological problems related to drug use, and giving up activities due to drug use. No dose-response relationships were observed with increasing levels of PCE exposure.

Conclusions: These results suggest that exposure to PCE-contaminated drinking water during early life modestly increases the risk of developing diagnostic criteria for drug use disorder later in life. Because this study has several limitations, these findings should be confirmed in follow-up investigations of other exposed populations with more diverse racial and socioeconomic characteristics.

Authors: Ann Aschengrau, Alexandra Grippo, Michael R Winter, Margaret G Shea, Roberta F White, Richard Saitz
; Full Source: Environmental health : a global access science source 2020 Sep 17;19(1):99. doi: 10.1186/s12940-020-00638-2.