'Date rape drug' slowly coming of age in region

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Last week, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Drug Enforcement Administration Director Asa Hutchinson unveiled an unprecedented investigation of Internet-based drug-trafficking operations titled "Operation Webslinger".
   The multi-jurisdictional investigation targeted illegal Internet trafficking of "date rape" drugs, commonly called "liquid G" such as GHB and its derivatives, GBL and 1,4 Butanediol (1,4 BD).
   As a result of the investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, together with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs Service, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Ontario Police Department, announced the arrest of 115 individuals in 84 cities across the United States and Canada.
   Those who take GHB, GBL, or 1, 4 Butanediol (1,4 BD) can experience euphoria, intoxication, and hallucinogenic states. The drugs have also been known to act as muscle growth hormones, according to the DEA.
   However, they are more popularly known as "date rape" drugs, acting as central nervous system depressants. Odorless and colorless, they cause drowsiness, dizziness, loss of consciousness, and loss of inhibition, as well as memory impairment. Higher doses can cause unconsciousness, seizures, severe respiratory depression, coma, and even death.
   First Judicial District Drug Task Force Director Kenneth Phillips said the date rape drug GHB is easy to make if chemicals are available or if individuals know how to get them. "The chemicals are illegal to have though. You order them over the Internet from other countries," Phillips said.
   Phillips said GLB is mixed with sodium hydroxide and another ingredient to make GHB. "It would be liquid, and you mix it with orange juice or alcohol or something like that," he said.
   According to Phillips, the recent arrest of an East Tennessee State University student for manufacturing GHB is only the second or third time area officers have seen the drug in the last few years.
   "This is not like cocaine or crack or something. It's not a drug that you sell very often. You either take it yourself or you give it to people. We're mainly in the business of buying narcotics, so if it's not something that's not sold very often, that may be why we don't run into it very often. Basically what it does is it just makes you pass out and you don't remember anything," Phillips said.
   District Attorney General Joe Crumley said GHB is one drug that is being seen more often in the First Judicial District.
   "The thing that's really disgusting about it is it's an industrial floor stripper. And how somebody decided to drink it, I don't know," Crumley said.
   Crumley said that, at one point, GHB was used as a type of supplement for weight-lifters.
   "What I was told was that you could buy it in 55-gallon drums for less than $100, but a little capful sells for $10 to $15. Oftentimes GHB is used to 'mellow out' or come down from an Ecstasy high. It may often render somebody unconscious, and that's where the date rape comes in," he said.
   Crumley said if people knew what was in some of the drugs popular today they would be horrified. He cited methamphetamine as an example.
   "It might have Drano in it, battery acid, or anhydrous ammonia. Anhydrous ammonia is so dangerous. There was a Tennessee officer that was looking under a bed or a piece of furniture, and her face was close to the carpet. When she brushed it, it caused the acid to come up into her lungs immediately, destroying about 60 percent of her lungs. So instead of being an officer, she's now on disability," he said.
   If law enforcement officers enter property without the proper protective gear and are exposed to chemicals such as those used to manufacture methamphetamine, Crumley said the results can be disastrous.
   "You may not have anything now, but you may end up with cancer in two or three years," Crumley said. "It could have long-term effects."
   Carter County Sheriff John Henson said he has not seen many instances of GHB or other date rape drugs in the county. However, he said, "You know it's coming. What everybody else gets, we're usually the last to get; but we get it."
   DEA's Hutchinson said, "With millions of people having quick and easy access to the Internet, the buying and selling of deadly drugs and chemicals from the web should not, and will not, be as simple as point-and-click. E-traffickers can expect to face the same justice the old-fashioned drug dealers face."
   GHB is a Schedule IV drug, punishable by two to 12 years in jail.