Pubdate: Thu, 31 Jan 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Jake Wagman and Joseph A. Gambardello
Bookmark: (Youth)


They took a drug known as GHB before classes at Gloucester County's 
Williamstown High, police said. All were hospitalized.

Three Gloucester County teens were hospitalized yesterday after 
drinking a designer "date-rape" drug before arriving at school in the 
morning, police said.

Officials at Williamstown High School in Monroe said the male 
students had appeared ill and had vomited before passing out in 
separate homeroom classes about 7:30 a.m.

Two of them, ages 17 and 18, were kept overnight at Virtua-West 
Jersey Hospital Berlin, where they improved from serious condition to 
fair condition. A 15-year-old who had been in critical condition was 
discharged yesterday afternoon from Kennedy Memorial 
Hospitals-University Medical Center/Washington Township.

Monroe police said they had found between one and two ounces of 
gamma-hydroxybutyrate - a colorless liquid known as GHB or Liquid X 
on the street - in a soda bottle in the car that the students had 
driven to school. Police said last night that lab tests confirmed the 
substance was GHB. Drug charges against the students are pending, 
police said.

It was the second time this month that students in the region have 
been hospitalized after taking drugs and falling ill. On Jan. 8, 28 
students at Roberto Clemente Middle School in North Philadelphia were 
treated after taking powerful doses of the prescription antianxiety 
drug Xanax.

Like ecstasy, GHB is one of the so-called rave or club drugs meant to 
produce a fast, cheap high. Its knockout effect also puts GHB in a 
league with other "date-rape" drugs, such as Rohypnol. "I have never 
heard of this stuff before," said Vincent Tarantino, assistant 
superintendent in the Monroe Township School District. "It must be 
the new drug of choice."

GHB, once sold over the counter, is an addictive central nervous 
system depressant that can be bought illegally over the Internet or 
brewed at home using a mix of paint stripper and drain cleaner, which 
are neutralized in the cooking process.

Sometimes the drug is sold as "nail polish remover" or "CD cleaner" 
on Web sites seeking to avoid detection by authorities, said Trinka 
Porrata, a former Los Angeles narcotics detective who is one of the 
nation's top experts on GHB.

"How many women do you know would pay $60, $80 or $100 for a bottle 
of nail polish remover?" Porrata asked.

GHB also is known as "liquid ecstasy," "G," "Gamma-Oh," "Georgia Home 
Boy," "Easy Lay," "Grievous Bodily Harm," "Great Hormones at 
Bedtime," "Soap," "G-Riffick," and "Cherry Meth."

The Williamstown case caused enough anxiety among some parents to 
prompt them to take their children home before school ended.

Parents said they had exchanged phone calls after hearing that 
students had been kept in their first-period classrooms and that 
helicopters were hovering over the 1,400-student high school.

"With 9/11, that school bus driver taking the kids to Maryland, those 
kids in Philadelphia getting sick - it made me nervous," said Julia 
Johnston, who has a son and daughter at Williamstown High. "You never 
know what to expect."

When Johnston and other parents arrived at the school, they saw that 
the helicopter was from a local news station and that the students 
had been kept in the school for about an hour until officials could 
assess the situation.

Sophomore Katie Grimmer, 16, said that she had seen one of the 
students shortly after he passed out, and that he had been "pale and 

Standing with friends in the parking lot after school, Grimmer said 
that although Liquid X is not as common as ecstasy in pill form, it 
is not hard to get.

"Nobody sells it at school," she said, "but if you ask somebody for 
it and they ask enough people, you can get it."

Monroe Superintendent Charles M. Ivory sent a note home with 
students, telling parents that it is "imperative that we remain 
steadfast in our efforts to prevent our children from becoming 
involved in substance abuse."

"I encourage you to speak directly to your children about this 
matter," his note said. "This is an appropriate time to pause and 
reflect on the dangers our children face today."

Outlawed by Congress two years ago, GHB emerged in health stores in 
the late 1980s in products intended to promote sleep, to slow aging, 
and to build muscles.

Christopher D'Amanda, head of addiction services at St. Joseph's 
Hospital in Philadelphia, said he had no anecdotal evidence to 
indicate GHB use was on the rise in the area. But, he said, many 
doctors and hospitals are not aware of the drug or its effects.

"GHB is a poorly understood designer drug," D'Amanda said. Those he 
has treated, he said, have been muscle builders or "hot on the dance 

"The common thing about them is they didn't know a damn thing about 
addiction," D'Amanda said. "They don't know what is happening to 

GHB is often mixed with alcohol so users can get higher with fewer 
drinks. But GHB comes in varying strengths, and taking the drug is 
like playing Russian roulette, said Porrata, a consultant who works 
with a nonprofit Web site,

She said GHB has a "steep dosage curve" in which a drop or two can 
double or triple the effect of an original dose.

"A little bit can make a huge difference between being drunk or 
unconscious, dead or alive," Porrata said. "A capful is a tremendous 

The federal Drug Enforcement Adminstration counted 73 deaths from GHB 
in the five years before Congress made the drug a controlled 
substance in early 2000. Porrata said she had counted more than 200 
deaths since 1990.

"We know there are deaths that have been missed," she said.

Federal statistics show that the number of emergency-room visits 
attributed to GHB nationwide grew from 55 in 1994 to 4,959 in 2000
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