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Ann Emerg Med. 2006 Feb;47(2):177-83. Epub 2005 Dec 28.

Trends in gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and related drug intoxication: 1999 to 2003.

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  • 1California Poison Control System, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA.



To analyze changes in gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) case reporting, we review GHB or congener drug cases reported to the California Poison Control System, comparing these to other data sets.


We identified cases from the California Poison Control System computerized database using standardized codes and key terms for GHB and congener drugs ("gamma butyrolactone," "1,4-butanediol," "gamma valerolactone"). We noted California Poison Control System date, caller and exposure site, patient age and sex, reported coingestions, and outcomes. We compared California Poison Control System data to case incidence from American Association of Poison Control Centers and Drug Abuse Warning Network data and drug use prevalence from National Institute for Drug Abuse survey data.


A total of 1,331 patients were included over the 5-year period (1999-2003). California Poison Control System-reported GHB exposures decreased by 76% from baseline (n=426) to the final study year (n=101). The absolute decrease was present across all case types, although there was a significant proportional decrease in routine drug abuse cases and an increase in malicious events, including GHB-facilitated sexual assault (P=.002). American Association of Poison Control Centers data showed a similar decrease from 2001 to 2003. Drug Abuse Warning Network incidence flattened from 2001 to 2002 and decreased sharply in 2003. National Institute for Drug Abuse survey time trends were inconsistent across age groups.


Based on the precipitous decrease in California Poison Control System case incidence for GHB during 5 years, the parallel trend in American Association of Poison Control Centers data, and a more recent decrease in Drug Abuse Warning Network cases, a true decrease in case incidence is likely. This could be due to decreased abuse rates or because fewer abusers seek emergency medical care. Case reporting may account for part of the decrease in the incidence of poison center contacts involving GHB.

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