The number of ambulance attendances involving the 'party drug' gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) in Melbourne have increased at a much higher rate than paramedic callouts for heroin overdoses, according to a research paper published in the latest issue of Medical Journal of Australia.
GHB is a central nervous system depressant drug used recreationally for its euphoric, sedative and aphrodisiac qualities. It is also reportedly used as a nutritional supplement or growth hormone by body builders, and in drink spiking offences to facilitate sexual assault.
Small variations in GHB dose can result in overdose, which is characterised by altered conscious state or loss consciousness and respiratory depression. Overdose has been associated with seizure, coma and in some cases, death.
Associate Professor Paul Dietze, from the Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health Research at the Burnet Institute, and his co-authors examined the nature and extent of ambulance attendances involving non-fatal overdoses of GHB and compared them with heroin-related attendances in Melbourne over a four-and-a-half year period.
The researchers analysed a database of ambulance records on attendances between March 2001 and October 2005.
They found that there were 618 GHB-related ambulance attendances - 362 involving GHB only and 256 involving the concurrent use of GHB and other drugs. There were 3,723 heroin overdoses observed during the same period.
While there were more heroin overdose callouts, the number of GHB-related attendances increased by around four per cent per month, which was a higher rate of increase than that found in heroin overdoses attendances.
"Most patients who took GHB were less than 25 years old, were attended in public places and had severely reduced consciousness."
A/Prof Dietze said that during the study period, around 90 per cent of patients who took GHB were transported to hospital, compared with 21 per cent of heroin overdose patients.
"The clear increases in GHB-related ambulances attendances over time highlights the need for further research on how best to respond to this emergent drug-related harm," he said.
The Medical Journal of Australia
is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.