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The Date Rape Drug (GHB) Revisited

By Joseph E. Troiani, Ph.D.

March 11, 2001

The media has recently been flooded with a wide range of stories regarding the drug called “GHB” (gamma hydroxy butyrate).  Story items include how this has become the “hot” party/rave drug for the college and young adult set, and how there has been a recent dramatic increase in its use by high school students.   It is reported that GHB has now become a drug of choice for date rapists and sexual predators.  There has also been a flurry of news reports regarding the widespread trafficking, distribution, and nationwide sales of this drug.  This resurgence of attention given to GHB is in part the result of concern by public officials over the increase in the abuse of this drug which is becoming more widespread across the United States.

On the streets this drug has a variety of names including: Liquid “X” or “G”, Easy Lay, Grievous Bodily Harm, Liquid Ecstasy, Cherry Meth, and Nature’s Quaalude.  It is a drug that has lived up to some of its street names.  Since 1990 according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) there have been 58 deaths, and over 5,700 overdoses requiring emergency room treatment attributed to GHB abuse. Not included are the numbers of sexual assaults (date or stranger rape) which have occurred because the victim was given GHB either knowingly or unknowingly.

The history of GHB goes back to 1964 when it was synthesized in the laboratory by Dr. Henri Laborit, a French researcher who was studying the effects of this drug on the neurotransmitters in the brain.  It was determined that it is predominantly a central nervous system depressant.  There has been clinical testing for the use of GHB for inducing short-term comas, use as a surgical anesthesia, and as an aid to treat people who suffer from narcolepsy which is a rare sleeping sickness.  But, this drug has never been approved for medical usage.  It eventually found its way to the London “rave” scene. 

Soon afterwards it appeared in the United States on the shelves of health food stores as a food supplement which contained both a growth hormone and stimulant to be used by bodybuilders.  In 1991 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sales of GHB.  Soon afterwards it appeared at nightclubs and all-night raves frequented by young people.  In congressional testimony, GHB was identified as one of “the most commonly encountered drugs in facilitated rapes”.  These along with the additional concern for the addictive and life threatening withdrawals resulting from its abuse has caused the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) early this year to reclassify GHB to the Schedule I category.

 In February of this year the “Samantha Reid and Hillory J. Farias Date-Rape Drug Prohibition Act of 1999” was signed into law.  This act is named after two teenage girls who died after being given lethal doses of the drug GHB.  It makes the illicit use or possession or manufacture of GHB a Schedule I offense which nets no less then ten years in jail for the first offense.  On March 14th of this year in a Detroit Michigan courtroom, three young men were convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the date-rape drug death of Samantha Reid.  This conviction carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

GHB is a colorless and odorless liquid drug.  It does have a very salty taste but can be easily masked in soft drinks and alcoholic drinks including beer.  Once ingested, the effects of the drug can be felt within five to twenty minutes and last up to twelve hours depending on the dosage level, leaving the body within 24 hours, which makes GHB difficult to trace.

When abused it can cause nausea, vomiting, delusions, depression, visual disturbances, vertigo, loss of consciousness, amnesia, respiratory distress, and finally a coma.  Contributing to these reactions is the fact that GHB recipes are available on the Internet and can be cooked up in one’s home.  If anyone has a reaction to the drug they should obtain emergency medical assistance immediately because GHB is potentially fatal.

Again we see a pattern of rapidly changing illicit drug use and abuse which goes on to impact a number of systems including the health care, emergency services, rape response, crisis intervention, law enforcement, and the substance abuse treatment systems.  It is most important that professionals working in these systems are aware and knowledgeable of these drug trends and how they impact on their ability to effectively do their job.  Being updated on illicit drug abuse on an ongoing basis has today become a requirement in order to be current and effective.

Dr Joseph E. Troiani has been working in the field for 30 years.  He is a consultant and trainer for Terence Gorski’s CENAPS Corporation with whom he has developed a training seminar “DRUG UPDATE 2001”.  His other responsibilities include the Directorship of Mental Health &Addiction Programs for the Will County Health Department, and he is the Coordinator of Addiction Studies at the Adler School of Professional Psychology located in Chicago.

<Have Dr. Joseph E Troiani Update Your Staff On Drug Trends>

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