ER Visits From Ecstasy Jump 75 Percent, U.S. Study Finds

THURSDAY, March 24 (HealthDay News) — Medical emergencies related to the illicit drug Ecstasy increased 75 percent between 2004 and 2008, a new U.S. government reports finds.

Hospital emergency rooms treated 17,865 patients in 2008 for medical problems caused by Ecstasy, which can cause agitation, heat stroke and heart failure, according to the study released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In 2004, Ecstasy-related ER visits numbered 10,220.

The resurgence of Ecstasy use is cause for alarm that demands immediate attention and action, said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde in an agency news release.

More than two-thirds of these ER patients were between 18 and 29 years old, but a sizable number — nearly 18 percent — were from 12 to 17, the report said, noting Ecstasy use is increasing among teens.

Ecstasy — also known as MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) — is often used at all-night parties called raves. Its reputation as a “club” or party drug belies the medical and mental dangers of even casual use, the report authors said.

Addiction, blurred vision, high blood pressure, heat stroke, muscle cramping and kidney failure are also linked to Ecstasy use, the report said.

“Amphetamine use continues to be a significant problem for adolescents and young adults. It is associated with significant morbidity and mortality,” said Dr. Lewis Goldfrank, chairman of emergency medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

“It remains to be determined how severe the long-term neurotoxic effects may be on the brain,” Goldfrank said. “There is no reason for anyone to believe that the use of this drug is safe at some dose — the risk is consequential at any dose.”

About 78 percent of the Ecstasy-related ER patients seen in 2008 had used it with other drugs or alcohol, which increases the potential for life-threatening and harmful effects. Use in hot, crowded places like dance clubs also amplifies health risks, the report said.

Thirty-one percent of the ER visits involved Ecstasy use with one other drugs, while 17.5 percent of patients had combined Ecstasy with four or more other drugs.

According to the study, 50 percent of patients 21 or older had used alcohol with Ecstasy compared with 20 percent of those 20 and younger.

Cocaine use with Ecstasy was also more likely among people 21 and older (43 percent) compared with those 20 and under (nearly 15 percent), the researchers found.

“Ecstasy, as all illicit and prescription drugs, continues to be a problem in emergency departments, especially when drugs are used in combination with one another,” said Dr. Joseph Feldman, chairman of the emergency medicine department at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

Goldfrank added that the drug’s widespread use represents “a significant societal concern filling our emergency departments with seriously ill individuals.”

Hoping to reduce use of Ecstasy nationwide, SAMHSA is putting aggressive prevention efforts into place, Hyde said.

The end result of its efforts should be “less costly emergency department visits related to drug use,” she added.

More information

For more on the dangers of club drugs, visit the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.