Date Rape Drug Finds New, Young Market

Date Rape Drug Finds New, Young Market
Posted by FoM on January 07, 2000 at 06:46:47 PT
By Jeff Coen and Eric Ferkenhoff
Source: Chicago Tribune
For months, Chicago detectives said, they watched as loads of industrial chemicals were dropped off at Charles Wagner's Southwest Side bungalow and gallon jugs of a clear, syrupy liquid were brought out.
When investigators moved in last month, they said they found ingredients for 114 gallons of gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, a drug that offers a groggy euphoria for $5 a capful and is best known as one of the "date rape" drugs used to incapacitate unsuspecting victims, who are then assaulted.The bust was the Chicago area's largest GHB seizure to date, underscoring what local physicians and police warn is the growing popularity of the drug, sometimes called "Georgia Home Boy" or "Liquid G."Officials believe it is catching on with a broader and younger crowd because it provides the equivalent of hours of drinking in a single swallow.In recent weeks, Chicago Narcotics Cmdr. Phil Cline issued a warning about the upswing in popularity of GHB, as well as Ecstasy, nitrous oxide and other so-called club drugs at after-hours parties in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood.But perhaps the most telling sign of GHB's threat locally is being seen in emergency rooms, with major medical centers across the Chicago area reporting a startling rise in recreational use of GHB among teenagers during the past year and a half. Many officials tell stories of a stream of high schoolers arriving for treatment after being knocked unconscious by the drug."Sometimes they're comatose; sometimes they're in respiratory arrest," said Valerie Phillips, emergency medical director at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.In low doses, doctors said, GHB produces an effect similar to drunkenness, along with drowsiness and amnesia. Higher doses can cause hallucinations.Very high doses can lead to extremely low heart and breathing rates and even coma, said Dr. Alan Kaplan, head of emergency services at Naperville's Edward Hospital. The dangers are exacerbated when GHB is taken with other drugs or alcohol."There's a very fine line between getting this euphoric state and passing out," Kaplan said. "It's very hard to control and very hard to know if you're taking too much."According to the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration, federal authorities have tied GHB use to 49 deaths since 1995. At least six have been reported since June.While there have been no confirmed GHB-related deaths in the Chicago area, local medical centers, including Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights and Christ Hospital and Medical Center in Oak Lawn, say they have watched the numbers of GHB-related incidents climb to three or four a month over the last couple years.At Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Dr. David Zull said the number is as high as three incidents each week.These days, said Zull and doctors at other area hospitals, most patients admit to taking the drug voluntarily."You went from the group that would come in purposefully poisoned with it to this younger group that's taking it recreationally," he said.Either way, experts warn that the potency of GHB, which is often concocted by amateurs using household and industrial chemicals and recipes passed from user to user, can vary dangerously."They put whatever they feel like in it, a little bit of antifreeze or whatever," said Dr. Sal Abrams, director of the emergency department at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village. "So what you get today is not going to be the same that you'll get tomorrow."In the two years since Illinois lawmakers classified GHB as a controlled substance, ranking it alongside heroin and cocaine, the Illinois State Police forensic lab has seen a slow rise in requests to test suspected GHB for criminal cases.State officials said the total number of submissions from police was 36 in 1998. Through September 1999, the number had reached 33. State police analysts said the actual number of GHB seizures in the state is probably far higher because the lab does not test evidence for every criminal case involving GHB.DuPage County, for instance, does its own testing. Carina Thomas, forensic scientist supervisor at the DuPage County Crime Lab, said her facility processed 15 GHB cases through October, up from 7 in 1998 and just one case in 1997.Police say trafficking in GHB is still relatively small scale compared to cocaine, heroin and marijuana. Yet police said December's record GHB bust gives a clear sign of the drug's increasing popularity.Charles Wagner, 41, of the 8400 block of Kostner Avenue, has been described by police as a supplier who allegedly took delivery of the GHB chemicals in 55-gallon drums."Just by the amount he had, it shows he had a network of customers," Cline said. "He was supplying people who were supplying others. You're starting to see a pyramid effect here, and that's the first sign of organized drug dealing."As evidence of GHB's threat, the U.S. Senate recently approved a bill that would make the drug illegal to possess, ingest or distribute, and put the substance under jurisdiction of the Drug Enforcement Administration.The drug is monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; and 25 states, including Illinois, have declared it a controlled substance.Police said dealers typically carry the odorless, tasteless drug in water bottles and sell $5 sips from the bottle tops."A year ago, an officer would stop someone with this in their car and they wouldn't think anything of it," said Chicago police Lt. John Kupczyk, whose team led the Wagner bust. "Law enforcement is becoming more aware of it, more savvy."GHB was introduced in Europe in the 1960s as an anesthetic, but it was never approved by the FDA.In the late 1980s, the substance made its way into some American stores, where it became popular among bodybuilders who believed it could enhance the effects of anabolic steroids. Soon afterward, according to police, the substance began to be used as one of a small group of "date rape" drugs.In Illinois, authorities said GHB first was used as a recreational drug on college campuses and in small circles that participate in "raves," all-night parties known for drugs and fast-paced dance music.Roy Garcia, police chief in Sycamore and the former head of the North Central Narcotics Task Force, said GHB's popularity has spread among youths as young as junior high age by word of mouth and as recipes have proliferated."This is middle- and upper-class America that is involved with this," Garcia said.Teenagers are drawn to the drug because it mimics the effects of alcohol cheaply, Garcia said."It's a fast drunk," said Michael Cleary, chief of investigations at the FDA's Chicago office. "You take one capful of that, and it's like drinking a quick six-pack of beer. . . . But you look at the components of that drug, and you just shake your head. Why would anyone put that in their body?""I admit it's stupid," said Brian, a frequent user who would give only his first name. "We used it because we were drug addicts. It was fun and it was easy."Brian, of the northwest suburbs, first experimented with GHB about two years ago at age 21. Very quickly, he said, an occasional habit became a daily routine."You take a capful and that's it," he said. "You don't have to sit around drinking all day."Chicago Narcotics Sgt. Mike Ryle said teenagers frequently assume GHB isn't as dangerous as cocaine or other drugs, reasoning erroneously that "You can make this drug at home, so how bad can it be?"Published: January 07, 2000Chicago Tribune Company Related Article:Senate Bill Makes GHB A Controlled Substance - 11/23/99
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