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Drug Warning Overshadows Mardi Gras

Tonight's Sydney Mardi Gras revellers have been warned of the dangers of illicit drugs, following an alarming spike in GHB poisonings.
NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos says one Sydney hospital registered a 53 per cent increase in patients with GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) poisoning during February compared with the previous two years.
"The hospital recorded 29 GHB-related visits, with 16 of those over a seven-day period," he said in a statement.
"With events such as tonight's Mardi Gras, our hospitals see a marked increase in the number of people presenting with drug-related illness such as toxic reactions and overdose.
"Like all illicit drugs, GHB can be incredibly dangerous and the effects are unpredictable."
Emergency services are expecting a busy 24 hours as Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras wraps up with the annual parade down Oxford Street tonight.
More than 500,000 people are tipped to line the route for a glimpse of the spectacular parade.
Professor Bob Batey, from NSW Health's Centre for Drug and Alcohol, today said GHB, also known as fantasy, liquid E or liquid X, was an anaesthetic with sedative properties.
He said short-term effects included drowsiness, relaxation, dizziness and decreased inhibitions, movement and speech impairment, muscle spasms, disorientation and, in serious cases, vomiting, convulsions, respiratory collapse and coma.
"It is almost impossible to accurately gauge the strength of a dose as more dealers are experimenting with their own backyard recipes," Prof Batey said.
Police have asked Mardi Gras revellers to party safely.
"We want everyone to enjoy the Mardi Gras but we want to make our message clear anti-social or criminal behaviour will not be tolerated," Assistant Commissioner Mark Goodwin said today.
"Our priority is crowd safety, and providing we have full co-operation from the public we anticipate an incident-free night."
Spectators should take plastic cups instead of glass bottles, he said.
Mr Goodwin said Mardi Gras revellers should leave unnecessary valuables at home, be aware of the dangers of drugs and alcohol and not climb on bus shelters, awnings, trees, poles or other structures for a better view.
People attending the parade are advised to catch public transport and be prepared for delays.
Some roads in central Sydney, Darlinghurst, Moore Park and Surry Hills will be closed from 2.30pm (AEDT) today until 5am tomorrow.
Transport Minister John Watkins said other major events this weekend, including the Super 14 rugby, A-League soccer grand final and Future Music festival, would provide a series of logistical challenges for Sydney's transport system.

AAP (4-3-2006)


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