Law Enforcement Considerations

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is growing in popularity among young adults (18-30 years old) as a drug of choice in clubs, raves, gyms, college campuses, and rural communities nationwide. GHB is being abused, for its euphoric, sedative, hallucinogenic and its alleged anabolic effects. Within this last decade, due to its analgesic and sedative effects, GHB has also gained notoriety as a date-rape drug. In this paper I will address the GHB patterns of abuse and the challenges that the illicit use of this drug presents to the law enforcement community.

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a depressant that affects the central nervous system. In the United States, GHB can be prescribed in very low doses as an experimental treatment for narcolepsy, under strict and controlled conditions. GHB, a colorless, odorless liquid with a slightly salty taste, is composed of: butyrolactone, an industrial solvent generally used for the removal of enamel paints; sodium hydroxide; high-proof grain alcohol; and distilled water (Sanguinetti et al. , 1997).

Users describe its effects similar to those of alcohol, even though amnesic episodes are more frequent and unpredictable after GHB ingestion (Miotto et al. , 2001). Overdosing in GHB is very common, for the mere fact that the margin between the dose that will produce intoxication and the dose that will produce coma, respiratory arrest, or death is very narrow. When GHB is ingested with other drugs, especially alcohol and other depressants, its potential for deadly outcomes increases (Miotto et al. , 2001).

Some of these characteristics facilitate sexual assaults; thereby making GHB the "date-rape drug" of choice. Effects of GHB are experienced, often within twenty minutes, in the form of disinhibition, relaxation of voluntary muscles, and lasting anterograde amnesia for events that occurred while under the influence of the drug. GHB was first synthesized in the early 1960's as an anesthetic and then became popular in the 1980's, when it was marketed to bodybuilders claiming to stimulate growth hormone release.

(Dyer, J. E. , 2000) Until 1990, GHB was easy to obtain in health food stores, gyms, the internet, and mail orders. As its popularity and usage grew, especially as a club drug, so did the number of its victims and the awareness of GHB's mood-altering properties. After a series of documented illnesses and complications, including nausea, uncontrolled shaking, coma and even death, in 1990 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took GHB off the market and allowed it to be used, in the US, only for research purposes.

It was not until the passage of the Hilary J. Farias and Samantha Reid Date-Rape Drug Prohibition Act of March 2000, that GHB became a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (1970), making it a Felony under FDA regulations to manufacture or transport it across state lines for distribution or sale. (White House Drug Office, 2004). As regulations and restrictions increased, multiple GHB analogs or precursors, with similar abuse potential emerged and are illicitly used, even though acquired through legitimate sources.

GHB analogs which include: gamma-butyrolactone furanone di-hydro dihydrofuranone (GBL), 1, 4-butaneidol tetramethylene glycol sucol-B butylenes glycol (BD), gamma-hydroxyvolerate methyl-GHB (GHV), and gamma-valerolactone 4-pentanolide (GVL), produce physiological effects similar to those associated with GHB abuse: relaxation, mild euphoria, and drowsiness (Salamone, 2001). GBL and BD upon ingestion metabolize into GHB. GBL is also the most common precursor utilized to manufacture GHB.

GVL, when ingested metabolizes into GHV, and produces physiological effects similar to GHB. Even though the sale of analogs for human consumption is prohibited by federal law, these analogs are legally available as industrial solvents used in the manufacturing of pesticides, pharmaceuticals, paint thinners or strippers, and other products. All these GHB analogs are distributed as liquids and can be consumed orally. GHB has a high potential for abuse due to its ease of accessibility, low cost, and misinformation regarding its physiological and psychological effects.

Besides the ease of obtaining GHB, in places like gyms or nightclubs, all the ingredients necessary to manufacture it can be easily obtained at different supply stores, while kits (http://janspage. freeyellow. com/page1. html) and recipes (http://life. uniserve. com/expl/ghb/ghb1. html) for making GHB can be found on the internet. This ease of production and low cost brings forth the claim by its users under the age of 21, that GHB is more easily obtained than alcohol or other drugs (Hensley, 2003).

According to Monitoring the Future study data, in 2003, 0. 9% of eighth graders, 1. 4% of tenth graders, and 1. 4% of twelfth graders reported using GHB at least once in the past year. As depicted in The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN, 2003), the long term-trends in GHB-related, Emergency Room (ER) visits have been in the upward. In 2002 there were 3330 GHB-related visits to the Emergency Room in the continental United States; an increase of over 2000% from 1994 data (56 visits) (DAWN Report, 2003).

From the overall GHB-ER visits, 54% were cases where in addition to GHB, alcohol was consumed. Additionally, over 55% of these GHB-ER cases were attributed to patients twenty five years and under. But, the data best describing the status of GHB as a club drug, and mainly being used by young people, is the number of young adults, between the age of eighteen to twenty-five, accounting for almost 20% of total drug related ER visits, where 58% were due to GHB ingestion (DAWN, 2002).