Another Drunk…or Diabetic

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on April 3rd, 2007

Yesterday I discussed the problem of chemical compounds on the breath which are falsely reported as ethyl alcohol by breathalyzers.  Diabetics, for example, have elevated levels of acetones on their breath when hypoglycemic.  Unfortunately, they also exhibit false symptoms of intoxication — as today's news demonstrates:

Mistaken for Drunk, Mr. Universe is Arrested

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.  April 3 (AP)  – The reigning Mr. Universe faces assault and resisting arrest charges following a run-in with police who mistakenly believed the diabetic bodybuilder was intoxicated.

Doug Burns, 43, was sprayed with Mace and wrestled to the ground by officers who were summoned to a movie theater Sunday night by a security guard, authorities said.

Burns, who was trying a new diabetes drug that night, said Monday he was preparing to see a film when he felt dizziness and poor vision — a sign of low blood sugar — and hurried to a snack counter.

The security guard noticed Burns' strange behavior and asked him to leave, thinking he was intoxicated, Redwood City Police Capt. Chris Cessina said.

When officers arrived, Burns allegedly lunged at one of them, pushing him to the ground with both hands, and took a fighting stance, Cessina said. Burns continued being combative until four officers wrestled him down, the captain said.

During the scuffle, the officers did not notice Burns' Medic Alert bracelet. An on-scene medical test later confirmed that Burns had low blood sugar during the incident, Cessina said…

Setting aside the question of whether you believe a diabetic weakened by hypoglycemia would assault four cops for no reason, this is another example of a commonly-encountered phenomena in DUI arrests.  See "Drunk Driver?…or Diabetic?" and "The Diabetic DUI".

But it's not really a problem, right?  I mean, how many diabetics falsely charged with DUI can there be out there?  From the American Diabetes Association:

There are 20.8 million children and adults in the United States, or 7% of the population, who have diabetes. While an estimated 14.6 million have been diagnosed, unfortunately, 6.2 million people (or nearly one-third) are unaware that they have the disease…

  • kookiemark

    I believe you have an error in the statements regarding diabetes and keytones. Keytones are a byproduct of the body burning fat instead of glucose for energy. This happens when someone is suffering from HYPERglycemia (elevated blood sugar), not HYPOglycemia (low blood sugar).

    If the body’s ability to metabolize sugar is diminished by either lack of insulin (Type I diabetes) or tissues being resistant to insulin (Type II diabetes) then glucose builds up in the bloodstream. Because the tissues are not able to consume this glucose they instead call on the body to provide them with fats for use as an energy source. The chemical reaction that takes place to change the fats to usable glucose is what creates the keytones. Having an elevated level of keytones in the body changes the pH level of the body making tissues more acidic. There is often a detectable odor on the breath that smells ‘fruity’ or like ’souring milk’. The substances being expelled from the body that cause this odor (typically acetones) can be detected by breathalyzers and mistaken for ethanol. (FYI this is also why people on certain diets test with false positives, their bodies are burning fats, not glucose.)

    The behavior that commonly mimics intoxication by alcohol is associated primarily with HYPOglycemia which occurs when there is an overabundance of insulin and thus the tissues consume too much glucose from the bloodstream. Without a supply of blood glucose the central nervous system begins to malfunction which causes the slurred speech, dizziness, loss of motor functions, and many more adverse effects including unconciousness.

    I am not certain whether the same symptoms of HYPOglycemia manifest with HYPERglycemia. As a Type I diabetic myself I have distinctly different symptoms for the two conditions. It should be said, however, that if a diabetic has poor blood glucose control they could be having a HYPOglycemic event shortly after having a HYPERglycemic event and that could explain the presence of both keytones and erratic behavior.

    I agree that individuals suffering from Diabetes are at risk for having a medical condition severely misunderstood or prejudged by a law enforcement officer. I also agree that the laws as written do not logically pursue justice. However, if we do not want a legitimate defense stigmatized as trickery, then all facts must be checked. Keytones build up in the body during HYPERglycemia, not HYPOglycemia.