A Dublin hospital has the third highest number of drug-related medical emergencies out of more than 30 clinics across Europe, according to a new study.
The Mater Hospital emergency department (ED) is behind major hospitals in London and Oslo in the scale of acute drug toxicity cases coming through its doors.
European Commission-funded research, conducted in 31 hospitals across 21 countries, found:
- Mater Hospital ED had a total of 2,089 acute cases between 2014 and 2017;
- Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda had 84 cases over the same period;
- The Mater caseload dropped from 524 in 2014 to 436 in 2016, before rising sharply to 586 in 2017;
- The number of cases in Drogheda fluctuated from 28 in 2014 to 11 in 2015, rising to 24 in 2016 and falling to 20 in 2017.
The European Drug Emergencies Network (Euro-DEN) has been running since the end of 2013 and, according to its researchers, provides a “unique insight” into acute harms from drug use given the limited systematic data on the area.
Of the 586 acute cases in the Mater in 2017, heroin was the most common drug, with 199 cases, some 34% of the total.
Cocaine was the next most common, with 120 cases (20%). Zopiclone (a sleeping tablet) was the third most common, with around 60 cases. The exact number not given. Cannabis was the fourth most common drug, with 58 cases (10%). Methadone was the fifth most common drug, with 45 cases, followed by Alprazolam, an anti-anxiety drug, and Pregablin, which is used to treat epilepsy and anxiety.
There were 41 cases involving MDMA (ecstasy).
The figures also show that, in Dublin, there was a far higher percentage of females among those with drug emergencies, accounting for 190 (32%) of the 586 cases.
This compares with 25% of cases in Oslo, 23% of cases in Antwerp, and 16% of cases in London.
The report said there were almost 24,000 acute drug toxicity presentations in all the centres over the four- year period. The majority of those presenting were aged 20 to 39 years, with an average age of 25, several years younger than those entering treatment. Some 1,400 cases (6%) involved people aged 18 or under.
For those aged under 19, cannabis was by far the main drug taken, accounting for four in 10 cases.
The second most common cause of emergencies among under 19s was GHB/GBL, accounting for 15% of cases, much higher than its general prevalence. Often known as “liquid ecstasy” or “G”, it has relaxant and euphoric effects and is popular in certain clubs. The report said most of the GHB cases reported were in the London hospital.
Cocaine was the third most common drug among under 19s.
The report said cannabis and benzodiazepines (tranquillisers) were “increasingly involved” in the youngest age group over time.
Overall, cocaine and cannabis presentations increased significantly between 2016 and 2017. The report said centres in five countries, including Ireland, reported crack cocaine.