GHB: Deceptive, deadly and often overlooked
Published: Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Updated: Sunday, March 20, 2011 18:03
"They miss it all the time," she said.
Some users dismiss the dangers as hysteria and say deaths and complications are due to people overindulging in GHB, making it no more deadly than alcohol.
Police, however, side with Porrata.
Depression and suicide are other risks of GHB, Porrata said.
An inmate's death from GHB withdrawal in Florida cost $1.75 million in a civil lawsuit, she said.
"Most drug detoxes are three to five days," she said. "But GHB is 10 to 14, and they can die at any time during that if not adequately medicated and supervised."
Some drug users gravitate to GHB because the courts and probation officers don't test for it, Porrata said.
Jackson County Drug Court routinely screens for eight drugs, but not GHB. Officials say they don't believe it is a drug of choice here.
But Porrata asks: How do they know if they don't test for it?
"We have found subcultures of GHB abusers who started for exactly that reason," said Porrata, who fields calls from addicts and parents across the country.
Will Hollingsworth bought GHB from a Florida health food store when it still was being sold legally in the 1990s. A wrestler and track speedster, he believed unsubstantiated claims it would help him build muscle and endurance.
But it ravaged his mind. When he tried to stop taking it, the withdrawals sent him into psychosis. He thought he was Jesus.
His parents committed him to mental hospitals 12 times.
"I didn't realize it was withdrawal," said his mother, Jan Hollingsworth, a retired newspaper reporter now writing a book about GHB's dangers. "I thought he was still taking GHB and that was putting him over the edge."
Doctors found three distinct lesions in Will Hollingsworth's brain in 2002 that they couldn't explain. His hearing and sight were damaged, and he couldn't move without a walker. Doctors told him his condition would never improve.
Four days later, he killed himself by setting himself on fire. He was 23.
Hollingsworth wrote a 2006 story about her son's struggle for The Tampa Tribune. After it was published, she heard from hundreds of readers, including a Florida man whose son, a top state wrestler, became psychotic after starting college. The son came home for psychiatric treatment and killed his girlfriend with a baseball bat while his parents were away.
"I don't know why I did it," he told his parents when they returned home.
The father told Hollingsworth his son had been ordering GHB off the Internet for years. He had no idea it could be related to his son's mental decline until he read her story-three months after the homicide.
Hollingsworth is disappointed that after these tragedies, many front-line workers such as police, ambulance crews, doctors and medical examiners still are ignorant of the dangers of GHB.
She said any athletes who suddenly suffer psychosis or delusions should be examined for GHB use.
"There is a way to save these people's lives and there's a way to kill them," she said.
Hollingsworth searched for information on the Internet after her son's first psychotic episode. She found nothing but GHB recipes.
When Middleton first realized her daughter may have taken GHB, she asked a police friend, who had never heard of it. She asked her daughter's friends and they told her it wasn't addictive and "not to worry."
"Well, it is addictive," Middleton said recently. "It's probably the worst drug out there. ... It's bigger than what they think."
Lack of education is the biggest reason GHB keeps hurting and killing people, experts say.
"These folks are outside the realm of recognition and help right now," Porrata said. "Their numbers will grow."
Project GHB's Web site-started by parents who lost a son to GHB-features the stories of 19 men and women who died from GHB-related causes. Many suffering overdoses were left to "sleep it off." Heartsick parents lament that friends periodically "checked" on their loved ones, but no one called for help.
"I lost my child," one parent wrote, "a part of my heart and a part of my reason to live, to GHB, the insidious monster."
Middleton understands the pain all too well. She raised two beautiful, successful and independent daughters. She got them through college and thought they were safe.
But now her younger daughter, who once loved frogs, angels and butterflies, is gone. And Middleton blames GHB.
"If this could happen to Alina, it could happen to anyone."
(c) 2009, The Kansas City Star.