GHB: Usage trends

Last modified: Sunday, 31. May 2009 - 3:51 pm

Scope and severity
Little data is available on the relatively new issue of GHB abuse. The government has only been tracking GHB use since it was declared illegal in March 2000. Additionally, GHB abuse is difficult to monitor because the drug is usually clandestinely manufactured. Also, GHB use often goes undetected since there is no simple diagnostic test that can be used by hospital emergency departments.
However, it has been reported that abuse of GHB has increased substantially since the late 1980s. Young people often abuse GHB and other club drugs in club settings such as raves, nightclubs, bars, and parties. Companies have marketed GHB as a strength-training aid and antidepressant. Body builders claim they use GHB because it stimulates the release of growth hormones and builds muscle. Individuals who have trouble sleeping may take it as a sedative. Alcoholics may take GHB in an attempt to eliminate alcohol cravings; this use is not medically approved in the United States.
There are no definitive numbers available on GHB abuse and overdoses, but various agencies have started tracking this information. The DEA reports more than 7,100 GHB overdoses and encounters with law enforcement between 1990 and 2001. Over that same time period, 65 GHB-related deaths, mainly from respiratory depression, have been documented. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) listed 20 emergency room episodes in 1992, and the number of episodes has climbed steadily since then to 2,973 in 1999. That number leaped to 4,969 in 2000.
Official reports are believed to under-represent problems associated with GHB use because many doctors are not yet familiar with it and may not know to test for it. Also, emergency rooms are often unable to detect or identify the drug because it leaves the body within 12 hours. In 2001, the National Institute on Drug Abuse
(NIDA) announced that, through its GHB Antidote Initiative, it was beginning the process of developing a treatment for GHB poisoning.
GHB use is particularly high in urban areas, although its use is growing in suburban settings throughout the country as well. GHB is mainly known today as a club drug, but is gaining a reputation as a date rape drug. As of 2001, the DEA documented 15 sexual assault cases involving 30 victims under the influence of GHB. Of urine samples submitted from 711 victims of alleged sexual assault, 48 tested positive for GHB.
Additionally, GHB and its precursors are used by body builders as an alternative to anabolic steroids. The drug has been marketed for its alleged ability to release large amounts of “natural” human growth hormone during sleep, build muscle, and reduce fat.
Age, ethnic, and gender trends
GHB is most popular with high school and college students, as it is found most frequently at late-night dance parties, college parties, and nightclubs where attendees are typically between the ages of 18 and 29. But GHB use cuts across all boundaries.
More than 60% of people hospitalized for GHB use were between the ages of 18 and 25 years old. Of the 63 documented deaths attributed to GHB since 1995, 40% were between the ages of 15 and 24 years old and an additional 29% were between 25 and 29 years old.
A 1999 DAWN report lists 267 emergency department mentions of GHB in patients aged 17 years old and younger, 1,498 mentions of use by patients aged 18-25, 905 mentions by patients aged 26-34, and 299 mentions by patients aged 35 and older.
GHB seems to be most popular among whites; however data show that its use expands to other races and ethnicities. In 1999, the number of emergency department mentions of GHB use included those by 2,297 white patients, 76 mentions by black patients, 52 mentions by Hispanic patients, and 548 mentions by other or unknown ethnicities of patients.
Gender does not seem to play a role in GHB use.

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