More Than 90 Overdoses In Biggest Party Drug Spike In Recent History
Three people have died and 91 have suffered overdoses in Western Australia since last Wednesday, with police suspecting 'out of fashion' party drug GHB as the cause.
The liquid drug GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) was linked to the three deaths in the state on the weekend.
WA Police said a 21-year-old man and two women, aged 23 and 25, died as a result of suspected drug overdoses in Perth on Saturday.
The man had been at a nightclub and the women were at private residences.
The deaths follow that of another man who died two weeks earlier at the Strawberry Fields music festival in Tocumwal, NSW. Police said that man's friends claimed he had taken GHB, cocaine and MDMA.
On Monday, WA Police said a total of 91 people in the state had suffered suspected overdoses between Wednesday and Saturday.
WA Police had earlier linked GHB to the three Perth deaths, but on Monday said it was unclear exactly what substances had been taken.
"I cannot tell you definitively what type of drug or indeed whether there is a bunch of different substances that are being taken," WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said.
"But to lose three young adult lives in the Perth metropolitan area in one day ... police are duty-bound to warn the community whenever we see a very spiked increase in apparent drug overdoses ...
Certainly, in my recent history, I can't recall three drug overdoses in one day.
Dr Andrew Miller, President of the Australian Medical Association's Western Australia branch, said on Sunday that he suspected "either a more potent version of GHB" had suddenly hit the streets, or "someone has got hold of a whole lot of it".
What is GHB?
GHB is a chemical solvent, commonly used in the production of plastics. It is also used as a party drug.
It usually comes as a clear liquid. The Australian Drug Foundation (ADF) said it often presents as "odourless, bitter or salty", but can "also come as a bright blue liquid known as ‘blue nitro’, and less commonly as a crystal powder".
It is often sold in small plastic vials or containers, commonly in the little fish-shaped bottles usually filled with soy sauce from restaurants.
Drug expert Dr Stephen Bright said GHB is a depressant similar to alcohol, but with more potent effects, which means it is often used at parties, clubs or festivals.
What are the effects of GHB?
"It's like a handbrake on the brain," Bright, a senior lecturer in addiction at Perth's Edith Cowan University, told 10 daily.
"It makes you very euphoric, the same as when you get happy from alcohol."
It is also referred to as 'fantasy', 'GBH' and sometimes 'liquid ecstasy' -- a nickname Bright said was not appropriate, as the drug was not at all linked to ecstasy or MDMA.
The ADF said the effects of GHB, which can last up to four hours, include increased sex drive and lowered inhibitions. However, other more dangerous effects include drowsiness, tremors, nausea and diarrhoea, and acting as a depressant for the central nervous system, it can also lead to respiratory failure.
GHB is sometimes referred to as 'the date rape drug' as it can cause hallucinations, memory loss, blackouts, vomiting, blurred vision, and even seizures and death.
Why is GHB dangerous?
Bright noted there is "very little GHB in Australia", and warned against "speculating" about the causes of death until toxicology and autopsy results are returned.
He added that the drug was sold in varying levels of potency nationwide, making it difficult for users to know exactly how strong their dose is.
"The threshold between getting happy and dying is much smaller [than other drugs]," he said.
Miller, from the AMA, echoed this.
"The dose between getting excited on it, and being unconscious on the floor, is pretty close together," he said.
It's a nasty drug. It goes up in popularity for a little while every now and then, unfortunately, it's usually associated with a spate of deaths.
Bright warned that mixing the drug with alcohol, as commonly is done in party or festival settings, can be a dangerous "multiplier effect".
"Mixing it with alcohol leads to an increased likelihood of overdose and respiratory depression," he said.
"Also opioid drugs, both prescription and illicit. It's a really dangerous combination ... with this multiplication effect, the breathing slows down and you can lose consciousness."
Bright warned against mixing the drug with any other substance and recommended anyone experiencing difficulties after using GHB to call an ambulance or report to medical staff at music events.