A new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) has found that visits to hospital emergency departments as a result of hallucinogenic drug phencyclidine has increased by more than 400% between 2005 and 2011.
Phencyclidine - better known as PCP or "angel dust" - is an illegal drug that is known to cause hallucinations.
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, phencyclidine causes disruption to glutamate - a neurotransmitter in the brain that plays a part in pain perception, learning, memory and emotion. It is also known to take control of dopamine in the brain, causing a person to experience elation.
Using data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), investigators from SAMHSA found that hospital emergency department visits as a result of phencyclidine increased from 14,825 in 2005 to 75,538 visits in 2011.
Increase highest in those aged 24 to 35
Looking at these results in detail, the researchers found that the largest increase in PCP-related emergency visits was in patients between the ages of 25 and 34. This age group alone saw an increase of 500% in visits, from 5,556 in 2005 to 34,329 in 2011.
In 2011 alone, those aged 25 to 34 accounted for 45% of all phencyclidine-related hospital visits.
A 289% increase in hospital visits was also found in adults aged 18 to 24, rising from 3,643 visits in 2005 to 14,175 in 2011.
Furthermore, the majority of PCP-related emergency visits were from males, who made up around 69% of all visits in 2011.
Dr. Peter Delaney, director of the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics at SAMHSA, says these findings show that actions must be taken to stop the impact that PCP is having on public health:
"This report is a wake-up call that this dangerous drug may be making a comeback in communities throughout the nation.
PCP is a potentially deadly drug and can have devastating consequences not only for individuals, but also for families, friends and communities. We must take steps at every level to combat the spread of this public health threat."
The investigators note that prevention efforts against PCP should include warnings about the use of the drug, and additional efforts should be made to target these warnings toward adults in the 25 to 34 age group.
The report states that additional knowledge regarding the risks of PCP could also help health care providers - particularly those at the forefront of emergency care - to ensure that patients who come into emergency departments as a result of these drugs receive the appropriate care and treatment.