Frightening new data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reveals that in 2009, more than 14,000 people visited hospital emergency room for intentional drug poisoning.

Peter J. Delany, PhD, the director of SAMHSA’s Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality in Rockville, Maryland defines intentional poisoning as an attempt “to harm someone by deliberately getting them to take a potentially harmful substance without their knowledge.”

SAMHSA’s Drug Abuse Warning Network, which monitors drug-related emergency room visits in the US, says almost two-thirds of those poisoned were women, and 60 percent overall involved alcohol in combination with other drugs.

Such poisonings often occur when a known date rape drug is surreptitiously dropped into a cocktail at a bar or nightclub — which can precede a sexual assault or robbery.

“[The poisonings] are very common in nightclubs but can occur anywhere,” says Dr. Jeffrey N. Bernstein, medical director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami. “These substances are a lot easier to get ahold of or conceal than a gun.”

To protect yourself, Delaney says to be aware of where your drinks are and reject free drinks from people you don’t know. And even if you’re intoxicated or taking illicit drugs, you should seek help immediately if you start to feel odd.

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