The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday January 28th

Date-Rape Drug Gains Popularity In Club Scene

After swallowing the drug, the music begins to throb louder. The room spins faster. The lights dance, faces blur, and all inhibitions suddenly are lost.

"It's like a hypnotic sedative. It's basically like being really, really drunk -- but a different kind of drunk," said a 21-year-old former UNC-Chapel Hill student who spoke to The Daily Tar Heel on condition of anonymity.

The student, who will be referred to as "Mark," said he has taken the drug between 10 and 15 times -- usually

pouring it in a glass of water or a Red Bull energy drink.

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate, known as GHB or just G, has long carried a "date-rape drug" stigma. But officials say some college-aged men and women now are choosing to consume the illegal drug by the capful for personal use -- usually without consideration for its potentially dangerous consequences.

"GHB is a depressant, and the more you put into your system, the more it acts as a central nervous system depressant," said Will Glaspy, spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

"The worst-case scenario is death or coma."

In the past, GHB has been used as a sleep aid, bodybuilding supplement or psychoactive drug. But now, because of its use as a recreational drug, GHB has joined the ranks of ecstacy and ketamine in its being considered a "club drug."

In September, UNC-CH freshman Justin Ryncavage was arrested for possession of the chemical gamma-butyrolactone, or GBL, which the body converts into GHB after ingestion. He was treated at UNC Hospitals for an overdose of GBL two days before his arrest.

GBL and 1,4-butanediol are both industrial solvents that have the same effect as GHB and have been used more widely since GHB became illegal two years ago.

Ryncavage appeared in court Oct. 24, and his case will be continued until Jan. 23. He has been ordered to participate in a program for first-time drug offenders. Ryncavage did not return calls.

Though Ryncavage's lawyer said the freshman took GBL as a sleep aid, the drug is now often used recreationally in clubs and at parties.

"It's just completely taken a face-lift from date-rape to party favor," Mark said.

Since his first dose of the drug this summer, Mark has joined clubgoers across the nation who measure their intoxication in capfuls instead of cans.

He said he first heard of GHB on the Showtime show "Queer as Folk" last spring, but he didn't see the drug firsthand until it was offered to him in a dance club months later.

Mark, along with other users interviewed for this article on the condition of anonymity, credits the appeal of GHB to its ease of use. The drug comes in powder form and is mixed with water in varying concentrations to make a colorless, odorless and tasteless liquid.

The liquid GHB is then dispensed in capfuls, which usually sell for $5 to $25. Mark said he usually takes between one to three capfuls at a time.

"It's a hassle to do some drugs, but with G it's pretty simple," Mark said. "It's odorless and tasteless, so you don't really know that you're doing it."

"Scott," 23, who recently graduated from N.C. State University, said he tried GHB and GBL once each while he was in college. He said the small dose needed to feel the drug's effects, combined with its simple administration, appealed to him.

"It's a little bit different than alcohol. Instead of drinking 72 ounces of beer to get a buzz, I can drink half an ounce of GHB and get the same effect," Scott said. "It's just a lot easier."

Both times, Scott said, he was offered the drug at house parties. He said GHB and GBL are popular because they are so easy to take.

"It's easier than drinking because all you need to take can fit in the size of an aspirin bottle," he said. "And that's enough for three or four people."

Though users say the drug has obvious appeal, GHB use can have serious consequences.

"Honestly, I don't know why some people would put a drug with these ingredients into their body," Glaspy said.

At their mildest, the negative effects of GHB include dizziness, erratic behavior, extreme confusion or nausea. At worst, they can include coma, seizures or death.

"The way people often die with the drug is swallowing vomit, aspirating vomit," said Dr. Jerry Frankenheim, program official and chairman of the club drugs work group at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"People think with someone who overdoses, you can just let them sleep it off, but a lot of times, it's not OK."

Stephen Smith, faculty emergency physician at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, said he sees about three GHB cases per month. "It's the most common overdose we see and the most common overdose in which the patient is critically ill," he said.

Smith also said that GHB is extremely addictive and that though its effects are worse when used with another drug, it is deadly alone.

"GHB can kill you by itself."

"Greg," a 19-year-old freshman at Western Carolina University, said he stopped taking the drug after experiencing severe stomach pains."It just ripped my stomach up," he said. "It just had too much of an adverse effect."

Greg said he first tried GHB two years ago, as a junior in high school.

"I took it at a party -- a friend had it, and I tried it," he said. "Twenty minutes went by, and it hit like a ton of bricks.

"It didn't take much. I'd hate to think what would happen if I had taken more."

Officials said one of the chief problems with GHB is that most people receive the drug in liquid form and aren't aware of its concentration.

"There's no guarantee from vial to vial," said Dean Blackburn, coordinator of substance abuse programs for the UNC Center for Healthy Student Behaviors."The thing with GHB is it's not made by a pharmaceutical company. It's never really made the same, and there's no standard for it."

Blackburn said he counseled two UNC-CH students last year for GHB use, one male and one female.

"I think, say, from this point back a few years, it was predatory," he said of GHB's use as a date-rape drug. "But the recreational use is now growing."

Mark also said he thinks GHB use is on the rise. Though he knows it's dangerous, he said he is still lured by the drug's appeal.

And for him, that appeal is worth the game of chance he plays each time he decides to take a swallow. "It's dangerous. I know it's dangerous," he said.

"One time I was about to go to sleep, and I didn't want to sleep because I was afraid I wouldn't wake up."

The Features Editor can be reached at features@unc.edu.

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