Presentations to an urban emergency department in Switzerland due to acute γ-hydroxybutyrate toxicity.

Liakoni, Evangelia; Walther, Fabio; Nickel, Christian H; Liechti, Matthias E (2016). Presentations to an urban emergency department in Switzerland due to acute γ-hydroxybutyrate toxicity. Scandinavian journal of trauma, resuscitation and emergency medicine, 24(1), p. 107. BioMed Central 10.1186/s13049-016-0299-z

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γ-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a drug of abuse with dose-dependent sedative effects. Systematic data on the acute toxicity of GHB from emergency department (ED) presentations over a long period of time are currently missing from the literature. The present study described the clinical features of GHB toxicity.


Retrospective case series of GHB intoxications seen in an urban ED.


From January 2002 to September 2015, 78 GHB-related intoxication cases were recorded (71 % male patients). The mean ± SD age was 29 ± 8 years. The co-use of alcohol and/or other illicit drugs was reported in 65 % of the cases. Neurological symptoms other than central nervous system depression included agitation (40 %) and clonus (21 %). The most frequent reasons for admission were coma (64 %) and agitation (23 %). The median time to regain consciousness was 90 min (range, 3-400 min). Sudden recovery was reported in 25 cases (32 %). Coma was not significantly associated with polyintoxication. Coma occurred in 77 % of the alcohol co-users and in 62 % ofthe non-alcohol users (p=0.052). The mean recovery time in comatose patients was 142 min in patients with co-use of alcohol compared with 89 min in patients without alcohol co-use (p=0.07). Alcohol co-use was not significantly associated with nausea/vomiting (p=0.07). The co-use of stimulants was not significantly associated with non-responsive coma (Glasgow Coma Scale = 3) or mean recovery time. Analytical confirmation of GHB was available in 37 cases (47 %), with additional quantitative analysis in 20 cases. The median GHB concentration was 240 mg/L (range, 8.3-373 mg/L). Intoxication was severe in 72 % of the cases. No fatalities occurred, and 72 % of the patients were discharged directly home from the ED.


There were trend associations between alcohol co-use and frequency and length of coma and nausea/vomiting which did not reach the significance level (all p=0.05-0.07) but may nevertheless be clinically relevant. As the exact time of use is not always known, and co-use of other substances can affect the severity of poisoning, no definitive conclusions can be drawn regarding the association between GHB concentration and severity.


Impaired consciousness and agitation were typical findings of GHB intoxication. The co-use of alcohol and/or other illicit substances is common but was not significantly associated with the severity of the intoxications in our study.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Department of General Internal Medicine (DAIM) > Clinic of General Internal Medicine

UniBE Contributor:

Liakoni, Evangelia


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health




BioMed Central




Evangelia Liakoni

Date Deposited:

04 Jun 2018 12:54

Last Modified:

23 Oct 2019 05:47

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Acute toxicity GHB Gamma-hydroxybutyrate




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