THURSDAY, Nov. 10 (HealthDay News) -- In 2009, nearly 15,000
American women and men ended up in an emergency room after being
unwittingly, but intentionally, drugged by someone else, a new
federal report reveals.
According to the data, about 60 percent of these cases occurred
after someone surreptitiously slipped a drug into the victim's
Details outlined in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration (SAMHSA) report -- touted as the first of
its kind -- suggest that the problem extends to a broad section of
For example, nearly three-quarters of intentional poisonings
involved individuals over the age of 21. And though the majority of
cases involved females, nearly four out of every 10 victims was
"This is not an epidemic, but it is a serious situation," said Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. "That means there are a lot of people who end up in the emergency room because a drug was given to them -- stimulants, cocaine, Ecstasy, anxiety drugs -- without their knowledge.
"So if you're in a situation where there's drinking and drug use going on, you need to keep an eye on things and pay attention," he added.
The SAMHSA researchers said there is a multitude of motives
behind intentional drugging.
On the one hand, such poisonings have been implicated in the
rapes of an estimated 3 million American women, although in reality
that figure could be considerably higher. The problem, the report
authors pointed out, is that not everyone realizes they have been
drugged, recall can be spotty and the intent of the perpetrator can
sometimes be difficult to discern.
What's more, intentional drugging is not solely about sexual
assault, since victims can instead be targeted for robbery or
To get a handle on the number and nature of intentional
poisonings across the United States, SAMHSA analyzed data collected
by its Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) surveillance system.
The team focused on the year 2009, looking at events unfolding
in the nation's ERs.
Among the findings:
The SAMHSA team noted that women accounted for 63 percent of
Based on the findings, the report authors suggested that an
effort needs to be made to raise public awareness of the problem,
particularly with respect to the elevated risk present in public
settings (such as bars and dance clubs) where alcohol and drugs are
"This is an educational issue," said Delany. "People do stupid things to people. So this is really a prevention issue. We're never going to stop it 100 percent. But we can help by really reaching out to the community and to young adults to say 'Look, when you go into these situations it can be dangerous.' "
Dr. Michael Brodsky, a psychiatrist at the University of
California, Los Angeles' David Geffen School of Medicine and
medical director of the private Southern California-based
behavioral practice called "Bridges to Recovery," described the
report as "concerning."
"Now, they're talking about a relatively small proportion of all the emergency room visits for intoxications of any kind," he noted. "On the other hand, I don't want to be alarmist but this is 15,000 visits for intentional poisonings. That's about five a day. And it seems
there a quite a lot of motives for doing this. It's not just women
being given date-rape drugs. There is a risk for both men and
"And I also wonder if these numbers are actually an underestimate," Brodsky added. "Because younger people under the age of 21 -- say, bystanders at a fraternity or dorm who come upon an underage student who is passed out -- are less likely to call for an ambulance or health care personnel in these kind of situations, because they don't want to be implicated. So there may be many more serious examples of this that don't end up in the ER.
"Either way, not only do people need to make sure that someone doesn't stick something in their drink," he said. "They should also be careful if someone says 'Here, try this pill,' because a large percentage of these poisonings are tied to prescription drugs. Sometimes with alcohol, sometimes not. So, people need to be awfully cautious all around."
For more on poisoning, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
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