Pubdate: Tue, 30 May 2000
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Copyright: 2000 Detroit Free Press
Author: Kim North Shine
Note: Kim North Shine may be contacted at 810-469-8085 or DOCTORS PAY BIG TO KEEP DRUG OFF STREETS

Clinton Township Veterinarian Paul Turkal Calls His Clinic's Pharmacy Ft. Knox.

There's no bullion inside the fortress-like room, but rather a drug as good 
as gold to thieves.

Ketamine, a sedative used primarily to tranquilize cats during surgery, has 
made veterinary offices nationwide popular with burglars and armed robbers, 
police say.

That's forcing veterinarians such as Turkal to play an expensive game of 
keep-away from the thieves who sell the hallucinogen on the streets as 
Special K, Cat Valium and K-Hole.

Buyers, police say, are often school-age kids and young adults looking for 
a cheap high, often at nightclubs or middle-of-the-night parties called 
raves. As with the more notorious club drug gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, 
Ketamine is used as a date rape drug. It is poured into the drinks of 
unsuspecting victims, who are rendered unconscious or paralyzed.

"I have a daughter now," said Turkal. "I don't want this happening to her 
or anyone."

Turkal has sunk $50,000 into his pharmacy security system, $90,000 total on 
the clinic.

The pharmacy is the only room in the clinic with floor-to-ceiling cinder 
block walls. A security camera and motion detectors look down from corners 
of the room.

Only Turkal has the access code that opens the pharmacy door and the keys 
that unlock the double-lock safe containing the Ketamine and other 
controlled substances.

The staff has also been trained to spot suspicious people. Often thieves 
posing as pet owners visit the clinics to get a lay of the office and break 
in later, police and veterinarians say.

"This is something that has become much more prevalent in the last year or 
two. I would imagine vets are being much more cautious now because the word 
is out on this stuff," said Dr. Peter Prescott, executive director of the 
Michigan Veterinary Medical Association.

Prescott and others say they suspect some veterinarians are selling the 
drug. Some states have fined or revoked the licenses of veterinarians for 
trafficking Ketamine, which is used to a lesser extent on dogs, horses and 

Trafficking, Thefts Increase

Last summer, the Drug Enforcement Administration responded to the climb in 
illegal distribution of Ketamine by classifying it as a controlled 
substance, which means veterinarians must keep track of the drug and be 
able to provide an accounting to the DEA.

"There were break-ins all over the place: Auburn Hills, Troy, Birmingham, 
some in Sterling Heights and Warren," Oakland County Sheriff's Sgt. Joe 
Duke said.

Three Rochester Hills veterinarians had Ketamine thefts two summers ago. A 
little more than a year ago, five St. Clair Shores clinics were broken into 
within several weeks of each other. Only Ketamine was taken.

Turkal says a cocaine-addicted man crawled in through the kennel door of 
the clinic about a month ago in the middle of the day.

"I was going into surgery, and the girls started screaming," Turkal said of 
his office staff. "He had a silver thing in his hand. I thought it was a 
gun. So I pulled the coat over this guy's head so he couldn't get to his 
arms. He was a 38-year-old man, high on crack. He had a crack pipe and 
steel wool."

The man was arrested. Detroit veterinarian Ivan Gadjev hasn't had the same 

There still are no suspects in the armed robbery of his clinic April 7. He 
was shot in the chest, arm and abdomen. He nearly died.

"He didn't get a chance to get my money or my Ketamine. I shot at him," 
said Gadjev, 62.

Gadjev is recovering at his Farmington Hills home. One bullet is still in 
his side, and he doesn't know if he'll perform surgery again because of 
wounds to his right hand and arm. He may close the Northland Veterinary 
Hospital, which he bought in 1974.

"Usually they're after the money. They're after the sedatives and the 
narcotics and that Ketamine in the last couple of years," Gadjev said.

Ketamine is a nationwide menace.

Emergency-Room Visits

Cases of abuse and overdose are turning up in emergency rooms in greater 
numbers since 1994, according to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health 
Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and 
Human Services.

In 1994, there were 19 cases of Ketamine use reported in emergency rooms 
nationwide. The number jumped to 149 the next year and in 1996 dropped to 
81. In 1997, however, the number of cases rebounded to a record-setting 
318. In 1998, the last year for which figures are available, emergency room 
visits that involved Ketamine use dropped to 209.

The drugs GHB and Ecstasy far outnumbered Ketamine with 1,282 and 1,142 
cases, respectively, reported in emergency rooms in 1998.

All three drugs can kill by stopping the heart or causing a coma.

In March, police in Lake County, Ill., broke up a Ketamine theft ring 
believed to be responsible for a rash of burglaries throughout the Midwest.

Two 19-year-olds and a 16-year-old were charged with four counts of 
burglary. The 16-year-old claimed to be making $2,000 a week selling the drug.

Closer to home, two teens were suspects in the Jan. 31 break-in and theft 
of Ketamine from a Smith's Creek veterinary clinic in St. Clair County.

Less than a month later, the teens, Brian Baer, 17, of Port Huron and 
Thomas Eppley, 19, of Ft. Gratiot, put a hunting rifle to their heads and 
killed themselves after a high-speed chase in Texas.

Ketamine is a newcomer to the illicit drug scene, Michigan State Police 
Sgt. Jerry King said.

A typical 10-milliliter vial of Ketamine, a clear liquid, is enough to drug 
about 30 people, depending on their body weights. Ketamine is usually 
injected, but it can also be mixed with tobacco or marijuana and smoked, 
King said. It is also poured into drinks.

"When I first got to this job about spring 1999 is when I got involved with 
Ketamine. It was just starting to impact Michigan in a bigger way," said 
King, who works in drug use prevention. "It's not as well-known as some of 
the other club drugs, but when it starts to hit home is when you start 
having deaths in your state."

Veterinarian Turkal said he's phasing out Ketamine. But for some 
veterinarians the alternative drug is too expensive.

'We've thought of putting out a sign that says "We don't have Ketamine, so 
go somewhere else,' " Turkal said.
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