Pubdate: Thur, 25 Feb 1999
Source: Toronto Sun (Canada)
Copyright: 1999, Canoe Limited Partnership.

When your kid heads downtown to a rave this weekend, he may be getting
advice on drug use by a city-funded outreach program.  And it's not advice
on just any recreational drug -- it's a blueprint on using potent GHB --
gamma hydroxy butyrate -- a drug increasingly used in date rape.

The Toronto Raver Info Project has put out a pamphlet advising club kids on
the safe way to use GHB. It practically waxes poetic on its power to leave
the user with "the feelings of relaxation, inner peace, happiness and
pleasure touching it can create (hence its nickname 'liquid ecstasy'...)."

It does mention that the clear, odourless, colourless drug "can be risky"
and can result in seizures, coma and even death. It does warn that knowing
how much to take is difficult because most GHB is homemade and strength can
vary from batch to batch. Yet after all that, the pamphlet still goes on to
recommend a dosage to "reduce your risks.

"Start with no more than 1/2 teaspoon/2 ml -- and wait at least half an hour
(an hour is better) before doing only a little more. Remember, it's super
easy to OD on this drug."

For A.J., a woman who came close to death after GHB was secretly slipped in
her drink by two men who later raped her, the chirpy advice is outrageous.

"It's just not right," she said yesterday. "The whole danger of this drug is
that you don't know how your body is going to react. You're playing with a
loaded weapon."

Florida paramedics told her she was just minutes away from death when they
found her unconscious outside a Boca Raton nightclub almost exactly three
years ago. Blood tests later would find she had been overdosed with more
than 18 mg of GHB in her 90-pound body. A 200-pound bodybuilder usually uses
1.5 to 2 mg.  "Whose idea was this?" A.J. demanded of the pamphlet. "It's
like telling them it's okay to use it."

The idea came from the Toronto Raver Info Project, which receives $4,400
from the city to do outreach in "drug prevention." Connie Clement, director
of Toronto public health planning and policy, is quick to point out that the
city didn't fund this pamphlet and so wasn't able to review it. Instead, it
was produced by the group through raver donations.

And while she probably would have worded it differently, Clement still
defended the effort as part of their harm-reduction philosophy, which
admittedly "is always politically sensitive." Harm reduction operates from
the belief that the reality of drug use is never going to disappear and
rather than punishing or lecturing the user, it strives to minimize the harm
they do to themselves and society.  "If you just say don't use it, it'll be
thrown into the garbage," Clement said.

But she admitted they are always treading a "very fine line" between
advising drug users on ways to reduce harm and actually appearing to promote
the drug.  "It's a struggle," she said.

But while I can buy the argument for harm reduction when it comes to
hard-core addicts who are well past the "Just say no to drugs" naivete, it
seems rather irresponsible when you're talking about club kids experimenting
with an incredibly dangerous drug, especially one that already has a
reputation as part of the date rape arsenal.  Mary Addison, director of
Women's College Hospital Sexual Assault Care Centre, says she is hearing
from more and more victims who believe they were slipped GHB. It has become
so popular that the recipe for it is now easily available on the Internet,
using easily obtainable ingredients. It has been linked to numerous deaths
in the United States.

So she doesn't understand how any agency could possibly recommend its use in
any way. "It's very scary. I don't feel there's any safe way of taking this

Just last week, York Regional Police made the biggest seizure of GHB in
Ontario history. They found a homemade batch of the party drug that would
fill more than 2,500 vials, at $20 a pop. Not surprisingly, police agencies
are against any message, as well-meaning as it may be, that seems to suggest
a safe dosage of GHB.

"It's marketed as somehow less harmful (than other drugs), but mixed with
alcohol or other substances, it becomes extremely deadly," said Toronto
Police Det. Court Booth of the Central Drug Information Unit. "To me,
abstinence is the best possible approach." Yet Dr. Joyce Bernstein at
Toronto Public Health stands by the pamphlet. "I think it's wonderful advice
actually. I have teenagers and I don't approach them with 'Don't do this,'
and ' Don't do that.' GHB is a very dangerous drug, especially when taken
with alcohol and I think if you read this, that's clear ... I'd rather see a
kid experiment with this in their hands, than without it." Even if it means
experimenting with their lives?

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