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Twenty-three deaths with γ-hydroxybutyrate overdose in western Sweden between 2000 and 2007


Kai Knudsen
Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine
Sahlgrenska University Hospital
S-413 45 Gothenburg


Background: γ-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a drug of abuse with a status as being safe. In spite of a reputation of low toxicity, a huge number of deaths associated with this drug have been recorded during recent years in Sweden. It is unclear whether coingestion with other drugs or ethanol causes death in GHB overdoses or whether GHB itself is the main cause of death.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to analyze the cause of death in GHB-related fatalities seen in our region.

Methods: All cases of deaths with GHB during the year 2000–2007 in the region of western Sweden were studied retrospectively. The cases were classified as either GHB poisonings without any, with a minor or a major influence of other drugs on the cause of death.

Results: Twenty-three cases were diagnosed as deaths due to GHB overdose. Ninety-one percent coingested other substances. Ninety-one percent of the decedents were male. Age varied between 16 and 46, with the median age at 25 years. Forty-three percent of the cases were classified as GHB poisonings without any or a minor influence of other drugs on the cause of death. Thirty percent also ingested ethanol. Two patients (9%) were only intoxicated with GHB.

Conclusions: Intoxication with GHB carries some mortality. Combining GHB with ethanol does not explain the many deaths in our region, nor do extremely high plasma concentrations of GHB. The intake of opioids increases the toxicity of GHB. The drug itself has such biological activities that an overdose is dangerous and may lead to death.