Pubdate: Thu, 17 Oct 2002
Source: Kentucky Post (KY)
Copyright: 2002 Kentucky Post
Author: Shelly Whitehead, Post staff reporter


The chewy leaves and buds of an East African shrub called khat are 
attracting growing attention locally from drug treatment and enforcement 
officials, who hope it doesn't take root as a street drug here. Ohio 
officials issued an alert Wednesday and the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike 
Force is sending information to police in its jurisdiction about the plant 
known formally as Catha edulis Forsk, and casually as khat, qat, Abyssinian 
tea and African salad. In fact, "salad" is precisely how a motorist stopped 
on Interstate 75 recently with what was thought to be khat described his 
cargo to police.

"This was a person the officer had stopped for a traffic violation and then 
for some reason he came across this stuff in the car," said Northern 
Kentucky Drug Strike Force Director Jim Paine. "The occupants told him it 
was 'salad' that was purchased at a specialty store geared toward people 
from African nations. That was the first time that any has been seen in 
this area."

The substance is so new to this area, Paine said, that the officer only 
later learned that it was probably khat, an illegal Schedule I narcotic in 
this country.

Khat can make users feel happy, chatty and energetic. But the biggest 
obstacle to it becoming the latest recreational drug of choice is its short 

Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center Co-director Dr. Earl Siegel 
said cathinone, the most powerful "feel-good" chemical in khat, rarely 
survives the trip from shrub in East Africa to chew in Cincinnati.

"If it's preserved, at best it's going to last 48 hours," Siegel said. "So 
if there are people waiting at the airport for it, maybe. But really it's 
not going to be a major street drug here. - It just loses potency so quickly."

Paine said the traffic stop incident highlighted a need for dissemination 
of information about khat locally, which the strike force has begun to do.

Likewise, the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addictions Services 
issued an "early warning alert" Wednesday to educate school and drug 
treatment and enforcement officials about khat.

Khat is popular and legal in the East African countries like Somalia where 
it grows.

A flood of Somalis into Columbus recently has been accompanied by a flood 
of khat, say officials, adding that many East African users are unaware the 
plant is illegal here.

"The drug has increasingly entered the U.S. by these emerging cultural 
enclaves," the Ohio early warning alert stated.
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