Party drug GHB a growing problem in Australia

Drug experts say use of the party drug GHB has escalated over the last four years and this is a cause for concern.

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a central nervous system depressant which induces a euphoric, comatose-like state. GHB in liquid form has been implicated in date rape cases and is popular among gay men.

A newly released study has revealed that the use of GHB in Melbourne, has grown faster than heroin use with a four per cent increase in overdoses per month between March 2001 and October 2005 - two-thirds of those affected were under 25.

Over that period the increase for heroin overdoses during that time, was about one per cent per month.

According to Associate Professor Paul Dietze, from the Burnet Institute, GHB is a fairly new drug which is popular with people under the age of 25 and has made an impact on the scene, which is of concern.

Professor Dietze says though the numbers are not as great as heroin, the people who are being affected are not injecting drug users but people at raves and parties.

The study which looked at the nature and extent of ambulance calls involving GHB in comparison with heroin-related attendances in Melbourne, found that 90 per cent of those who overdose on the drug need hospital treatment, compared with 21 per cent of heroin overdoses.

The study which is the first to document the extent of non-fatal overdoses involving GHB found there were 618 GHB-related callouts in the period examined, with 25 per cent younger than 20.

The researchers say almost 20 per cent were unconscious when picked up, and a further 45 per cent were "severely affected" and in all but eight per cent of cases, the user was taken to hospital to be appropriately managed and looked after; at least 10 Australians have died after taking GHB.

Unlike heroin, where there is an antidote drug that is administered by paramedics at the scene. GHB cases do not respond to any such drug.

Professor Dietze says with 618 GHB-related attendances over approximately 46 months, the rate is much higher than that in California.

Of the cases 362 involved GHB only and 256 involving the concurrent use of GHB and other drugs.

Drug experts while they are concerned about the trend, say the study findings may reflect more users contacting medics for help when someone becomes unconscious.

The researchers say there is a need for further research on the best way to respond to the emerging problem.

The study is published in the current edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

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