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Teen ER Visits Due to Ecstasy Are on the Rise

Study Shows More Than 17,000 ER Visits by Teens and Young Adults Because of Drug Ecstasy
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 24, 2011 -- Ecstasy use is rising among teens and young adults, causing a significant increase in emergency room visits by users of the street drug, a new federal study shows.

Hospital emergency department visits involving ecstasy increased from 10,222 in 2004 to 17,865 in 2008, a 74.8% increase.

Most of these emergency room visits (69.3%) involved patients between 18 and 29; 17.9% of those seeking help in ERs were between 12 and 17, according to the report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Negative Reactions to Ecstasy

Ecstasy can produce psychedelic and stimulant side effects, including anxiety attacks, hypertension, hyperthermia and rapid heart beat, called tachycardia. Such adverse reactions can increase when ecstasy is used, as it often is, along with alcohol or other substances of abuse, according to researchers.

SAMHSA says 77.8% of the emergency department visits involving ecstasy also involved the use of at least one other substance of abuse. Among ecstasy-related emergency department visits involving people 21 and older, 39.7% of the patients had used the drug with three or more substances of abuse, most often alcohol.

Among people 20 and older making emergency room visits because of ecstasy, 50.1% also had used alcohol and 43.4% cocaine, according to the SAMHSA’s Drug Abuse Warning Network, a public health surveillance system known as DAWN.

Among emergency department patients 20 or younger, 20.4% had also used alcohol and 14.7% cocaine.

“The resurgence of ecstasy use is cause for alarm that demands immediate attention and action,” SAMHSA administrator Pamela S. Hyde, JD, says in a news release. “The aggressive prevention efforts being put into place by SAMHSA will help reduce use in states and communities, resulting in less costly emergency department visits related to drug use.”

Ecstasy Trends

According to the DAWN report:

  • Trend statistics suggest the use of ecstasy is increasing among younger populations.
  • Between 2005 and 2008, self-reported use of ecstasy in the past year increased among adolescents from 1% to 1.4%.
  • Ecstasy can cause increased blood pressure, dehydration, heat stroke, muscle cramping, blurred vision, heart failure, and kidney failure, in addition to other side effects like recklessness and anxiety.
  • In 2008, ecstasy-related visits to emergency departments made up 1.8% of the total caseload for illicit drugs.
  • Ecstasy was the seventh most commonly involved illicit drug involved in emergency department visits, behind cocaine, which accounted for 48.5% of the ER visits, marijuana (37.7%), heroin (20.2%), methamphetamine (6.7%), PCP or phencylidine (3.8%), and amphetamines (3.2%).
  • 12.8% of emergency department visits involving ecstasy were made by adults 30 and older. Males accounted for 52.8% of the emergency department visits related to ecstasy.

Regional Differences in Ecstasy Use

DAWN researchers also detected regional differences in ecstasy use. Their report says 34% of ecstasy-related emergency department visits were made in the South, 31.4% in the West, 18.5% in the Midwest, and 16.1% in the Northeast.

Other key findings:

  • On average, 2.8 drugs were involved in ecstasy-related emergency visits in 2008.
  • In 31.3% of ecstasy-related emergency department visits, one other drug was involved, compared to 15% that involved two additional drugs, 14% three other drugs, and 17.5% four or more.

Authors of the DAWN report say ecstasy is a public health concern because of its adverse health consequences, and it is also addictive. It says users of the drug need to be educated about its dangers, especially about what can happen when it’s used with other illicit substances.

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