Background Female drug users report poorer physical and mental health than male drug users. We describe female and male patients treated for acute recreational drug toxicity, and look for gender differences in clinical state, treatment, and toxic agents taken. Methods Retrospective case series from a primary care emergency outpatient clinic and a hospital emergency department in Oslo, Norway. All patients treated for acute recreational drug toxicity from October 2013 through March 2015 were included, except patients with lone alcohol intoxication. Patients were grouped according to whether they had taken opioids or not, as a proxy differentiation between heavy drug users and party drug users. Data from the two clinical settings were analysed separately. Results In total, 2495 cases were included, 567 (22.7%) were women. Female patients were younger than males, median 31 vs 34 years (p < 0.001). On most comparisons of clinical variables there were no significant differences between genders. A larger proportion of females in the outpatient opioid group were hypotensive, 10.9% vs 3.9% (p < 0.001). Fewer females were intubated, none vs 21.1% (p = 0.019) in the hospital opioid group, and 6.4% vs 21.0% (p = 0.039) in the hospital non-opioid group. The proportion of gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) poisoning was larger among females both at the outpatient clinic (14.4% vs 8.6%, p < 0.001) and at the hospital (60.3% vs 36.4%, p = 0.001), while the proportion of heroin poisoning was smaller among females at the outpatient clinic (37.1% vs 47.0%, p < 0.001). Conclusion One in four patients treated for acute recreational drug toxicity were women. Female patients were younger, had more frequently taken GHB and were less frequently intubated. Otherwise, the gender differences regarding clinical state and treatment were small. Although female drug users are known to report poorer health than males, we did not find that women had a more severe clinical course than men when presenting with overdose.
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