Drug use among young people has become a major public health issue since becoming the leading cause of injury death in the United States in 2008. Similar increases in drug-related poisonings have been seen in many other developed countries. A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney has found that poisonings tied to drugs or alcohol, which account for 9 percent of all poisoning-related hospital admissions in Australia, are a significant risk for men under the age of 30.

"Recreational poisonings are events arising from the use of alcohol, illicit or prescribed drugs for recreational purposes, or to induce psychoactive effects," said Dr. Kate Chitty, a research fellow at Sydney Medical School, in a statement. "They represent a significant and potentially lethal form of harm associated with drug use."

Chitty and her colleagues used data from the Hunter Area Toxicology Service (HATS) — considered Australia’s oldest toxicology service — to gather 13,805 patient records between January 1996 and December 2013. Following a string of recent drug and alcohol-related deaths and poisonings at Australian music festivals, the research team felt it necessary to gauge the harm and prevalence of recreational drug use among young people.

Stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall, were deemed the drug most commonly associated with poisonings followed by alcohol, opioids, sedatives, hallucinogens, cannabis, non-narcotic analgesics, ecstasy, and cocaine. Men were 2.8 times more likely to suffer a poisoning compared to women and people under the age of 30, who were 1.6 times more likely compared to their older counterparts. The higher risk for drug poisonings among men is most likely tied to their propensity for risky decision making.

"The finding that peak recreational poisoning admissions occurred on Fridays and Saturdays reflects a 'binge' culture, associated with weekday restraint and weekend excess of alcohol and recreational drugs," Chitty explained. "That we see these patterns most commonly in young people highlights that these potentially life-threatening hospital admissions are not the result of years of drug abuse but are largely associated with binge behavior considered 'normal' by many of Australia's youth."

Although the majority of substance-related poisonings were not fatal, six unlucky patients did end up losing their life as the result of drug-fueled poisoning. Among these patients, all had taken an opioid, three had also consumed alcohol, and only one had also taken a benzodiazepine, like Xanax. Poisonings associated with drug use were three times more likely to occur between Friday and Sunday and between the hours of 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

When it came to mixing or combining drugs — something that severely ups a person’s risk for life-threatening consequences — the results were surprisingly split down the middle. While 51 percent of poisonings involved only one class of drug, 49 percent involved two or more classes. Alcohol was the substance most commonly associated with combining drugs, accounting for half of all poisonings.

Source: Osbourne N, Cairns R, Dawson A, Buckley N, Chitty K. Trends in recreational poisoning in Newcastle, Australia, between 1996 and 2013. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2015.