Taylor & Francis Group
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Analytically confirmed illicit and novel psychoactive drug use in Western Australian emergency departments: initial results from the Emerging Drugs Network of Australia (EDNA)

posted on 2023-07-14, 11:40 authored by Courtney Weber, Jennifer L. Smith, Jessamine Soderstrom, Sally Burrows, David McCutcheon, Francois Oosthuizen, Daniel M. Fatovich

The burden of acute illicit drug use in Australia is largely unknown. Establishing a prospective drug surveillance system in emergency departments using analytical confirmation may facilitate the early identification of emerging drugs. We describe demographic data and acute toxicity patterns, stratified by analytical confirmation of illicit drugs and novel psychoactive substances, to emergency departments in Western Australia.

Patients presenting with severe and/or unusual clinical features consistent with recreational drug toxicity were identified across five Western Australian emergency departments participating in the Emerging Drugs Network of Australia between April 2020 and December 2021. Demographic and toxicology patterns in patients with and without analytically confirmed illicit drugs/novel psychoactive substances from blood samples were collected during the emergency department presentation.

The cohort included 434 severe and/or unusual toxicology presentations; median age 33 years (first and third quartiles 25–40 years), 268 (61.8%) males. Any substance (illicit, novel psychoactive substance, pharmaceutical) was detected in 405 (93.3%) presentations. Illicit drugs/novel psychoactive substances were detected in 257 (59.2%) presentations, including 73 (28.3%) with more than one confirmed illicit drug/novel psychoactive substance. Frequent illicit drugs identified were metamfetamine (n = 201, 77.9%) and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (n = 30, 11.6%). Forty-eight novel psychoactive substances were detected within 43 (16.7%) presentations. Novel benzodiazepines were most frequently detected (n = 29, 60.4%). Frequent pharmaceuticals detected included diazepam (n = 100, 26.1%) and clonazepam (n = 40, 10.4%). One hundred and fifty-five (35.7%) presentations were discharged home and 56 (12.9%) were admitted to intensive care. Presentations with detected illicit drugs/novel psychoactive substances had a lower median intensive care length of stay compared to presentations without detected illicit drugs/novel psychoactive substances (32.6 h versus 50.8 h respectively, P < 0.001).

Integration of clinical and analytic data in patients with severe and/or unusual toxicology presentations via the Emerging Drugs Network of Australia provides insight into illicit drug/novel psychoactive substance use responsible for acute harm across Western Australian emergency departments.


The establishment of the Emerging Drugs Network of Australia (EDNA) is supported by a 5-year National Health and Medical Research Council Ideas Grant [GNT2001107], as well as various state-based pilot projects including the National Centre for Clinical Research on Emerging Drugs, the Western Australian Mental Health Commission and the East Metropolitan Health Service Mental Health Research Fund. David McCutcheon is supported by a Royal Perth Hospital Research Foundation Fellowship [ID CAF 124/2020].