GHB: Deceptive, deadly and often overlooked
Published: Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Updated: Sunday, March 20, 2011 18:03
"Here's all I have," she said.
The detectives, however, didn't believe her. When they asked about a glass cup in her cabinet, she told them to leave.
But by then, police already had enough probable cause to get a search warrant. All told, detectives spent eight hours recovering nearly a liter of GHB they found in containers of various sizes. They also found a handwritten recipe, a video of the woman making GHB and hundreds of little plastic bottles-an indicator that the GHB was being sold to numerous customers.
Criminals make GHB by mixing a degreasing chemical found in paint strippers, gamma butyrolactone, or GBL, with sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, which are similar to drain cleaners. The resulting liquid tastes salty.
The bust-the first of its kind in Kansas City-prompted police to take notice.
"We said, 'Hey. We need to make sure we're paying attention to this,' " said Maj. Jan Zimmerman, who commands the narcotics and vice unit.
The woman has not been charged, pending further investigation.
Sgt. Tim Witcig said he believed that the woman, an unemployed bartender, probably was selling GHB as a party drug.
But police wondered: Had she also sold GHB to men wanting to take sexual advantage of others?
Before it happened to her, a Northland mother never dreamed that a man would slip a sexual assault drug into her beer at a neighborhood party.
But her experience in 2005 mirrors many of the 31 sexual assault reports taken by Kansas City police in the past 18 months involving victims who feared they had been drugged. Victims reported attacks at bars, homes, vehicles and hotels. Police were not able to prove the allegations, in part, because such drugs leave victims' bodies within hours.
Experts at the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault in Kansas City say they see an increasing number of victims who believe they have been drugged, and most of them don't report it.
"They don't have clear memories of what happened," said Allison Jones-Lockwood, MOCSA's director of advocacy and outreach. "It's very difficult to come forward and say you were raped when you don't know the details."
The Northland mother waited three days to report her attack.
Diana (who didn't want her last name published) was 27. She and her husband attended a Halloween costume party at a friend of a friend's house. It was BYOB. Diana didn't know that until she arrived. Her best friend's husband provided her cans of beer.
"I didn't think anything of it," Diana recalled. "I had known him for three years. I look back now and consider myself stupid."
Diana said she believed she and her husband were drugged with GHB. Over five to seven hours, she drank three beers and had two shots of cinnamon schnapps. That amount normally would not make her ill, she said.
Her husband passed out in the backyard. In the house, Diana vomited, became disoriented and later could not control her muscles. She stumbled to the bathroom, where she drifted in and out of consciousness. Neighbors checked on her at different times. Then her friend's husband entered and locked the door behind him.
She doesn't remember the rape but has a distinct memory of him announcing that he had ejaculated.
The next morning, Diana felt fine. No headache. No hangover.
But frightening images flashed in her head.
"It was like a horror flick," she said. "Little bits and pieces of what had happened."
She didn't know what to do. Another partygoer encouraged her to call the police.
"I know something bad happened to you," he said. "If you don't call the police, I will."
Diana and her husband took her party costume to the Kansas City Police Department's North Patrol Division station.
Traumatized, she moved, changed jobs and went through therapy at MOSCA to overcome post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Eighteen months later, DNA tests linked semen on her costume to her friend's husband.
Clay County prosecutors initially declined to file charges. But after Diana persisted, Clay County Prosecutor Dan White got a grand jury indictment. White told Diana he was convinced GHB was put in her beer.
A jury last year found Michael David Heith, now 47, guilty of felony deviate sexual assault. A judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail. He later moved to Texas, where he is awaiting trial for allegedly soliciting a minor online.
Diana's experience made her more vigilant about her surroundings and her drinks, which she won't even leave alone at a buffet restaurant while getting food.
"I refuse to be a victim," said Diana, who volunteers for MOCSA.
Originally developed as a surgical anesthetic, GHB later was promoted as a legal alternative to steroids and sold at health food stores.
After some deaths and overdoses, federal officials declared it illegal in 2000.
But the main ingredient still is sold legally, as long as it is not marketed for human consumption. Some Web sites sell GBL as an industrial chrome cleaner or paint remover.
People taking GHB for athletic purposes or to sleep are most at risk to become addicted, experts say. Their bodies require increasing doses just to feel normal. Eventually they can need doses every few hours.
Many drug rehabilitation centers aren't familiar with the unique and lengthy detoxification necessary to kick the addiction, said Porrata of Project GHB.
Truman Medical Center has not seen patients for GHB overdoses or withdrawal-related problems, a spokesman said.
But Porrata thinks the hospital and others are missing GHB cases because they are not testing for it.