Alarming rise in illegal party drug overdoses

Savannah Meacham |

Queensland health authorities are alarmed at a spike in the use of GBH amongst young people.
Queensland health authorities are alarmed at a spike in the use of GBH amongst young people.

A four-fold rise in the number of people being taken to hospital after overdosing on GHB in the past two years has alarmed Queensland authorities.

The staggering increase in GHB intoxication-related presentations was recorded at emergency departments across the state’s southeast, according to data released on Friday.

GHB, or gamma-hydroxybutyrate, is an illegal drug that acts as a depressant and has sedative and anaesthetic effects.

It’s often ingested to provide feelings of euphoria, relaxation, sociability and an increased sex drive.

In recent years, the drug has gained popularity amongst 18 to 25-year-olds as a “party drug”, but it’s also known as a “date rape” drug commonly used in drink-spiking.

The data, gathered by Princess Alexandra Hospital’s clinical toxicology unit, shows presentations for GHB account for almost a quarter of emergencies.

“PAH data shows that GHB-related presentations are now the second most common recreational intoxication causing people to need emergency care behind methamphetamines,” toxicology nurse practitioner Benjamin Learmont said in a statement.

“GHB now accounts for 24 per cent of emergency presentations related to drug use that require admission to our intensive care unit.”

The side effects of GHB that often lead to hospitalisation include vomiting, irregular breathing, hallucinations, blackouts, and memory loss, and can end in death.

In March, a woman died and two others were hospitalised after ingesting a cocktail of drugs including GHB at a high-rise apartment on the Gold Coast.

Some of the reported long-term effects of GHB use include dependence, heart disease, severe memory issues and extreme anxiety.

Mr Learmont said the state’s healthcare system is fighting to stay ahead of the curve on designer drugs like GHB.

“We always have to be vigilant and expect the unexpected,” he said.

He also called on more public awareness of the lifelong impacts of using substances like GHB.