GHB: Deceptive, deadly and often overlooked
Published: Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Updated: Sunday, March 20, 2011 18:03
KANSAS CITY, Mo.-Susan Middleton first learned about GHB when she found a Gatorade bottle containing a clear liquid in her daughter's freezer in Kansas City, Kan.Inexplicably, the liquid was not frozen. Middleton sniffed the contents. No odor.
"What in the world?" she thought.
Her curiosity led her to the Internet. Put in "odorless liquid" and "Gatorade bottle" and up pops gamma hydroxybutyrate, a powerful central nervous system depressant.
GHB seemed like the least of her daughter's problems. But as it turned out, GHB was the root of her problems.
Most people fear GHB as a "date rape" drug. But this deceptively dangerous liquid has grown in popularity in recent years with partiers, athletes and others who take it deliberately, sometimes with deadly consequences.
Partiers sip it to get high. A capful is akin to drinking five beers in five minutes with a little PCP on top, experts say. But drink too much and you may never wake up.
Bodybuilders and athletes use it as an alternative to steroids, thinking it makes them bigger and stronger. But it can send regular users into psychosis and ruin their bodies.
Police departments haven't routinely tested for GHB. But when Kansas City investigators busted a GHB lab in June in a River Market loft, they realized this drug may be a bigger player in the local drug scene than they thought. They recovered nearly a liter of GHB, enough for hundreds of doses.
GHB-related overdoses have killed at least three people in the area in recent years, including a 28-year-old Northland man in October.
Nationally, one expert identified 200 GHB-related deaths across the country from 1995 to 2005, but the real numbers could be much higher because police, hospitals and medical examiners don't routinely check for it.
People who supply GHB at rave parties, the bar scene or the gym contend it is harmless. But that's not true, said Trinka Porrata, a leading international GHB expert and retired Los Angeles police detective.
"GHB addiction is the single toughest-most prolonged and most dangerous-of all drug withdrawals," said Porrata, who runs a nonprofit organization called Project GHB.
Even Middleton's daughter, Alina Bostic, seemed to realize that GHB, or G as it is known among users, had taken over her life.
Bostic told her mother in September 2007: "I think it was the G that really messed me up."
A few weeks later, Middleton stopped by Bostic's home with leftover lasagna and brownies. She found her daughter lying facedown in her living room.
She was dead.
Bostic moved to the Kansas City area with her mother and sister when she was about 1 year old. She danced on the drill team at Lee's Summit High School and joined the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority at Northwest Missouri State University, where she earned a public relations degree.
"Alina was such a bright and charming girl," Middleton said. "She was the kind of person you wanted to be around."
While working as a bartender, Bostic kept putting off plans to pursue a career related to her degree. She started using GHB through a friend she met at the bar. Her life soon spiraled out of control.
"It was like she turned a corner into a dark alley and never came out," Middleton said.
Bostic became withdrawn and extremely anxious and had angry outbursts. She quit working and wouldn't leave her home. She spent nearly all her time in bed trying-without success-to get some sleep. A doctor prescribed Xanax and sleeping pills.
Middleton moved her daughter into her Raymore, Mo., home to keep closer tabs on her. Whenever Bostic acted strangely, Middleton gave her a drug test. Each time, Bostic passed. But the test didn't screen for GHB.
Eventually, Bostic refused a drug test and moved back into her own house.
At the time, Middleton thought her daughter was depressed and addicted to prescription drugs. In reality, Bostic was struggling with GHB and trying to medicate her painful withdrawal symptoms with other drugs-a common tactic among addicts, experts say.
Ten days after Bostic's 30th birthday, Middleton left work early to check on her. After finding the body, she called 911.
Police crime scene technicians left behind a tea bottle containing a clear liquid. It was GHB. Middleton called police, who returned to get it.
She had to ask the coroner to test her daughter's body for GHB, something he doesn't routinely do.
Multiple drug intoxication caused Bostic's death, Wyandotte County Coroner Alan Hancock said. She had 432 milligrams per liter of GHB in her blood-well more than a toxic level, according to an international study of GHB deaths.
She also had alcohol and small amounts of other drugs, including Xanax, in her system.
"GHB was a major contributor," Hancock said, adding that it was the second GHB-related death he has seen in recent years.
The other case involved a man who passed out at a house party. The next morning, everyone left for work except him. Residents didn't realize he was dead until they returned that night.
Hancock is open to the possibility that other GHB-related cases might have been missed.
"It's totally invisible," Middleton said. "It can be any color and be put in any bottle. No one wants to hear about it."
GHB can hide in plain sight.
That may be why a Kansas City woman suspected of running a GHB lab allowed police into her River Market loft in June. Acting on a tip that drugs were being sold from the home, police asked whether they could search it.
She opened her kitchen cabinet to show them a small bag of marijuana and a bong, or water pipe, used to smoke it.