Concerns grow about anaesthetic-laced tattoo inks

Illegal tattoo inks have been discovered that are adulterated with local anaesthetic drugs at levels that could cause serious side effects.

A case report in the journal Talanta authored by researchers from the National Institute of Health in Italy describes an incident in which tattoo inks were seized by Italian police that were suspected of being laced with anaesthetic compounds.

Three samples were sent for analysis, and subjected a battery of laboratory tests that revealed lidocaine and tetracaine were present at doses – 5 per cent lidocaine and 2 per cent tetracaine - that could pose a major risk to people having larger tattoos.

A 17 x 17cm sized tattoo would be enough to reach the maximum permitted dose of lidocaine using the ink, say the researchers. Tetracaine is more potent than lidocaine, potentially increasing the risk, and as some people are hypersensitive to this class of drug there is also a risk of allergic reactions.

Two of the three positive samples were seized in the same tattoo parlour, but the third one was found in a parlour located in a different region of Italy. This suggests that tattoo inks containing anaesthetics could be widespread in Italy and possibly the wider EU market, according to the researchers.

“In EU a tattooing regulation is not yet in place,” they write. “It is important to be aware that tattoo inks may be adulterated with active pharmacological ingredients such as anaesthetics and [official medicines control laboratories] need suitable analytical screening methods to face this challenging kind of ‘medicine in disguise’.”

Photo by Romina Farías on Unsplash

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