|Doctors Pay Big To Keep Drug Off Streets|
Posted by FoM on May 30, 2000 at 13:16:02 PT|
Pet sedative Ketamine is popular with thieves
Source: Detroit Free Press
Clinton Township veterinarian Paul Turkal calls his clinic's pharmacy Ft. Knox.
There's no bullion inside the fortress-like room, but rather a drug as good as gold to thieves.
Ketamine, a sedative used primarily to tranquilize cats during surgery, has made veterinary offices nationwide popular with burglars and armed robbers, police say.
That's forcing veterinarians such as Turkal to play an expensive game of keep-away from the thieves who sell the hallucinogen on the streets as Special K, Cat Valium and K-Hole.
Buyers, police say, are often school-age kids and young adults looking for a cheap high, often at nightclubs or middle-of-the-night parties called raves. As with the more notorious club drug gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, Ketamine is used as a date rape drug. It is poured into the drinks of unsuspecting victims, who are rendered unconscious or paralyzed.
"I have a daughter now," said Turkal. "I don't want this happening to her or anyone."
Turkal has sunk $50,000 into his pharmacy security system, $90,000 total on the clinic.
The pharmacy is the only room in the clinic with floor-to-ceiling cinder block walls. A security camera and motion detectors look down from corners of the room.
Only Turkal has the access code that opens the pharmacy door and the keys that unlock the double-lock safe containing the Ketamine and other controlled substances.
The staff has also been trained to spot suspicious people. Often thieves posing as pet owners visit the clinics to get a lay of the office and break in later, police and veterinarians say.
"This is something that has become much more prevalent in the last year or two. I would imagine vets are being much more cautious now because the word is out on this stuff," said Dr. Peter Prescott, executive director of the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association.
Prescott and others say they suspect some veterinarians are selling the drug. Some states have fined or revoked the licenses of veterinarians for trafficking Ketamine, which is used to a lesser extent on dogs, horses and humans.
"There were break-ins all over the place: Auburn Hills, Troy, Birmingham, some in Sterling Heights and Warren," Oakland County Sheriff's Sgt. Joe Duke said.
Three Rochester Hills veterinarians had Ketamine thefts two summers ago. A little more than a year ago, five St. Clair Shores clinics were broken into within several weeks of each other. Only Ketamine was taken.
Turkal says a cocaine-addicted man crawled in through the kennel door of the clinic about a month ago in the middle of the day.
"I was going into surgery, and the girls started screaming," Turkal said of his office staff. "He had a silver thing in his hand. I thought it was a gun. So I pulled the coat over this guy's head so he couldn't get to his arms. He was a 38-year-old man, high on crack. He had a crack pipe and steel wool."
The man was arrested. Detroit veterinarian Ivan Gadjev hasn't had the same satisfaction.
There still are no suspects in the armed robbery of his clinic April 7. He was shot in the chest, arm and abdomen. He nearly died.
"He didn't get a chance to get my money or my Ketamine. I shot at him," said Gadjev, 62.
Gadjev is recovering at his Farmington Hills home. One bullet is still in his side, and he doesn't know if he'll perform surgery again because of wounds to his right hand and arm. He may close the Northland Veterinary Hospital, which he bought in 1974.
"Usually they're after the money. They're after the sedatives and the narcotics and that Ketamine in the last couple of years," Gadjev said.
Ketamine is a nationwide menace.
In 1994, there were 19 cases of Ketamine use reported in emergency rooms nationwide. The number jumped to 149 the next year and in 1996 dropped to 81. In 1997, however, the number of cases rebounded to a record-setting 318. In 1998, the last year for which figures are available, emergency room visits that involved Ketamine use dropped to 209.
The drugs GHB and Ecstasy far outnumbered Ketamine with 1,282 and 1,142 cases, respectively, reported in emergency rooms in 1998.
All three drugs can kill by stopping the heart or causing a coma.
In March, police in Lake County, Ill., broke up a Ketamine theft ring believed to be responsible for a rash of burglaries throughout the Midwest.
Two 19-year-olds and a 16-year-old were charged with four counts of burglary. The 16-year-old claimed to be making $2,000 a week selling the drug.
Closer to home, two teens were suspects in the Jan. 31 break-in and theft of Ketamine from a Smith's Creek veterinary clinic in St. Clair County.
Less than a month later, the teens, Brian Baer, 17, of Port Huron and Thomas Eppley, 19, of Ft. Gratiot, put a hunting rifle to their heads and killed themselves after a high-speed chase in Texas.
Ketamine is a newcomer to the illicit drug scene, Michigan State Police Sgt. Jerry King said.
A typical 10-milliliter vial of Ketamine, a clear liquid, is enough to drug about 30 people, depending on their body weights. Ketamine is usually injected, but it can also be mixed with tobacco or marijuana and smoked, King said. It is also poured into drinks.
"When I first got to this job about spring 1999 is when I got involved with Ketamine. It was just starting to impact Michigan in a bigger way," said King, who works in drug use prevention. "It's not as well-known as some of the other club drugs, but when it starts to hit home is when you start having deaths in your state."
Veterinarian Turkal said he's phasing out Ketamine. But for some veterinarians the alternative drug is too expensive.
'We've thought of putting out a sign that says "We don't have Ketamine, so go somewhere else,' " Turkal said.
Contact Kim North Shine at 810-469-8085 or email@example.com
By Kim North Shine, Free Press Staff Writer
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