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Colorado Drug Threat Assessment
May 2003

Other Dangerous Drugs

Other dangerous drugs (ODDs) present a significant and increasing threat to Colorado. ODDs include the club drugs MDMA, LSD, ketamine, and GHB and its analogs; the hallucinogen psilocybin; and diverted pharmaceuticals including opioids (narcotic analgesics) such as Dilaudid, Lorcet, OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, and Vicodin and sedative hypnotics (benzodiazepines) such as Valium and Xanax. Club drugs are transported into Colorado in private vehicles, by couriers aboard commercial flights, and via package delivery services. Many club drugs are sold and abused by middle-class, suburban, young adults at raves and nightclubs, and on college campuses. MDMA is increasingly available and abused in Colorado, particularly in the Denver area, where the drug is distributed at a growing number of venues such as college campuses and private parties. The diversion and abuse of pharmaceuticals, especially opioids, is an increasing concern to Colorado. Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers are the principal distributors of diverted pharmaceuticals.


Throughout the 1990s high energy, all-night dances known as raves, which feature techno music and flashing laser lights, increased in popularity among teens and young adults. Raves occur in most metropolitan areas of the country. They can be held at either permanent dance clubs or temporary "weekend event" sites set up in abandoned warehouses, open fields, empty buildings, or civic centers. Club drugs are a group of synthetic drugs often sold at raves and dance clubs. MDMA is one of the most popular club drugs. Rave managers often sell water, bubble gum, glow sticks, and mentholated cream at rave parties. "Ravers" drink water to offset dehydration caused by MDMA; chew bubble gum to prevent the grinding of teeth, which is a common side effect of abusing MDMA; wave glow sticks in front of their eyes because MDMA stimulates light perception; and apply mentholated cream to their nostrils to produce a rush of feeling called freeze.

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Club Drugs

MDMA. The increasing availability and abuse of MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), particularly among teenagers and young adults, pose a growing threat to Colorado. MDMA, also known as ecstasy, XTC, E, and X, is a stimulant and low-level hallucinogen. MDMA was patented in 1914 in Germany where it was sometimes given to psychiatric patients to assist in psychotherapy, a practice never approved by the American Psychological Association or the Food and Drug Administration. Abuse of the drug can cause psychological problems similar to those associated with methamphetamine and cocaine abuse, including confusion, depression, sleeplessness, anxiety, and paranoia. The physical effects can include severe dehydration, muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, blurred vision, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. MDMA can also cause a marked increase in body temperature leading to muscle breakdown, kidney failure, cardiovascular system failure, stroke, or seizure. MDMA abuse may result in long-term, permanent damage to parts of the brain that are critical to thought and memory.

MDMA is increasingly available and abused in Colorado. According to DAWN data, MDMA ED mentions in the Denver metropolitan area increased from 11 in 1997 to 42 in 2001. Many law enforcement agencies in Colorado reported dramatic increases in MDMA availability in 2000 and 2001. These increases in MDMA availability have been noted by Colorado law enforcement agencies throughout the state, as law enforcement pressure in larger cities such as Denver and Colorado Springs has compelled rave promoters to stage events in more rural areas. In early 2001 a Colorado promoter gave a 48-hour notice of a planned rave in Wray, a small farming community in northeastern Colorado. More than 2,500 young adults from eight states attended the event. In addition to raves, MDMA is distributed in many bars, nightclubs, and private parties in the Denver metropolitan area. Moreover, MDMA appears to have become a mainstream drug, according to law enforcement officials. MDMA increasingly is abused in traditional settings, including residences and businesses, and it often is abused in combination with other drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamine.

Most MDMA available in Colorado is produced outside the United States, typically in laboratories in the Netherlands and Belgium, and is transported to Colorado via package delivery services and by couriers aboard commercial aircraft. Most MDMA available in the state transits distribution centers such as Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., en route to Colorado. MDMA also is transported to the state in private vehicles. Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers are the primary transporters of the drug to the state. MDMA generally is not produced in Colorado, although law enforcement authorities in Boulder County seized one MDMA laboratory in 2000.

Operation Green Clover

In August 2001 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in California and Colorado dismantled three affiliated drug distribution groups that operated in Denver. This law enforcement initiative, Operation Green Clover, resulted in the arrests of more than 50 suspects and the seizure of 85,000 MDMA tablets, 2.5 kilograms of cocaine, 320 pounds of marijuana, 4,100 cannabis plants, 5 pounds of methamphetamine, 40,000 dosage units of LSD, and $1.36 million. These groups are suspected of distributing nearly 100,000 MDMA tablets per month from Denver to drug markets in Colorado, California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and other states. Couriers aboard commercial aircraft transported MDMA in 20,000-tablet shipments from the Netherlands through New York on behalf of these groups. The groups then distributed the tablets to a series of midlevel distributors, who in turn supplied a vast network of retail distributors throughout the United States. Authorities in Lakewood also charged three of the defendants with distributing a controlled substance that resulted in death because MDMA was sold to a 16-year-old girl who died after ingesting the drug.

Source: DEA Denver Division.

Caucasian local independent dealers are the principal distributors of MDMA in the state. They typically are supplied by European, Russian, or Israeli DTOs based in Los Angeles and Las Vegas or, to a lesser extent, New York City or Philadelphia. In Denver, Asian street gangs such as Asian Pride and Viet Pride have established sources of supply in Southern California and may have become the primary wholesale distributors of MDMA in the city, according to the Denver Police Department. In addition, DEA reports that in late 2001 several Mexican criminal groups began distributing MDMA in wholesale quantities in several areas of the state. Wholesale distributors supply MDMA primarily to Caucasian independent dealers in their late teens and twenties. Most retail distribution of MDMA occurs at raves or in dance clubs; however, MDMA increasingly is being distributed in residences, apartment buildings, and other venues. MDMA is sold for $20 to $30 per tablet or $8 to $12 per tablet in 100-tablet lots. In addition, tablets sold as MDMA in Colorado, particularly in Denver and surrounding cities, increasingly contain other drugs such as methamphetamine, MDA (methylenedioxyamphetamine), and MDEA (methylenedioxyethylamphetamine).

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LSD. The distribution and abuse of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) pose an increasing threat to Colorado. LSD, also known as acid, boomers, and yellow sunshine, is a hallucinogen that induces abnormalities in sensory perceptions. The effects of LSD are unpredictable depending upon the amount taken, the environment in which it is abused, and the abuser's personality, mood, and expectations. Abusers may feel the effects for up to 12 hours. The physical effects include dilated pupils, elevated body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, loss of appetite, nausea, numbness, weakness, insomnia, dry mouth, and tremors. Two long-term disorders associated with LSD are persistent psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (flashbacks). LSD typically is taken orally.

LSD is available in powder and liquid forms, in tablets or capsules, on pieces of blotter paper that absorb the drug, and on small candies. In Alamosa County in southern Colorado, law enforcement authorities report that LSD is available in the form of blue tablets with a yellow star. Some abusers hide liquid LSD in breath mint vials or bottles designed to contain eyedrops. The drug primarily is distributed and abused at raves, bars, and nightclubs in large cities and college towns in Colorado. Typically, abusers in Colorado are 14- to 21-year-old males who usually abuse the drug in combination with another substance, typically MDMA.

Most LSD available in the state is produced in California and transported to Colorado primarily through package delivery services. College and high school students, primarily Caucasian, are the principal retail distributors of the drug. The South Metro Drug Task Force (encompassing Arapahoe and Douglas Counties) reportedly seized 183 kilograms of LSD in a single seizure in 2000. LSD sells for $50 to $350 per sheet (100 dosage units) in Colorado, and a single dosage unit or "hit" typically sells for $1 to $5.


A recent trend at Colorado raves is a practice called dosing. If the rave attendees suspect that an individual is an undercover law enforcement officer or an informant for law enforcement authorities, they will sometimes dose that individual. A number of ravers will approach the person from behind and spray him with water containing liquid drugs, primarily LSD, which is easily absorbed through the skin. Ravers will occasionally dose themselves and each other at the end of a rave as an ovation to the departing disc jockey.

Source: Colorado Regional Club Drug Seminar, Gunnison, Colorado.

Ketamine. Also known as K, special K, vitamin K, and cat valium, ketamine presents an increasing threat to Colorado. The drug is an injectable anesthetic that is approved for both human and animal use. Ketamine is sold commercially and is produced in liquid, powder, and tablet forms. The liquid form is injected intramuscularly. In its powdered form, ketamine can be mistaken for cocaine or methamphetamine and often is snorted or smoked with marijuana or tobacco products.

Low-dose intoxication from ketamine may result in impaired attention, learning ability, and memory; dissociation, which includes out-of-body and near-death experiences; and hallucinations. High doses of ketamine can cause delirium, amnesia, impaired motor function, high blood pressure, depression, and potentially fatal respiratory problems. Ketamine gained popularity among drug abusers in the 1980s when it was discovered that large doses caused reactions similar to those experienced with PCP.

Ketamine reportedly is increasing in popularity among abusers at raves throughout the state, but few law enforcement agencies report that ketamine is available in their jurisdictions. Abusers typically commit burglaries of veterinary clinics and hospitals to acquire the drug for personal use. In an attempt to deter burglars, pharmacies, veterinary clinics, and veterinary hospitals in many counties, including Boulder, El Paso, and Larimer, have posted signs stating that they do not stock ketamine. Ketamine is also available from sources in Mexico. The Larimer County Drug Task Force reports that ketamine from Mexico is routinely encountered, particularly around the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins. The Grand-Routt-Moffat Counties Narcotic Enforcement Team (GRAMNET)--with jurisdiction over Grand, Routt, Moffat, and Jackson Counties--reports that retail quantities of ketamine from Mexico are available for purchase from Mexican criminal groups. There were five nonfatal overdoses of ketamine in the task force area in 2001. Law enforcement chemists in Denver have discovered ketamine in tablets seized or purchased by law enforcement that were marketed as MDMA.

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GHB and Analogs. The threat to Colorado from GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) and its analogs is low but increasing. GHB and its analogs--GBL, BD, GHV, and GVL--also are known as liquid MDMA, scoop, grievous bodily harm, and Georgia home boy. GHB is a depressant that occurs naturally in the body and is necessary for full functioning of the brain and central nervous system. GHB analogs are drugs that possess chemical structures that closely resemble GHB. Overdoses of GHB and its analogs can occur quickly; some signs include drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, impaired breathing, and occasionally death. These drugs often are used in the commission of drug-facilitated sexual assault because of their sedative effects. Overdoses are common but rarely lethal and can trigger coma. Abusers in some Denver clubs have become so accustomed to overdosing on GHB and becoming unconscious that they write a large "G" on the backs of their hands to inform other dancers not to call for help should they pass out.

GHB and its analogs are not available in most parts of the state. Few counties report ready availability, and many counties report that GHB and its analogs are infrequently, if ever, seized by law enforcement. In Denver GHB and its analogs occasionally are seized during routine traffic stops and rave parties. Despite limited statewide availability, GHB and its analogs are becoming more available in some areas. In Boulder the use of GHB is suspected in several sexual assault cases involving female university students. Almost all of the GHB abused in Colorado is produced in the state. GHB producers typically make enough of the drug to supply themselves and several friends for a short period of time--1 to 2 days--so that little distribution occurs. GHB is commonly sold for $5 to $10 per dose. GHB analogs are available at some disreputable health food stores, gyms, and via the Internet.

GHB Analogs

Analog Chemical/Alternative Name
furanone di-hydro
tetramethylene glycol
butylene glycol

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Psilocybin. Also known as cubes, liberty caps, magic mushrooms, mushies, mushrooms, psilocybes, and shrooms, psilocybin is the psychoactive ingredient found in certain mushrooms, notably, two Mexican species--Psilocybe mexicana and Stropharia cubensis. Hallucinogenic mushrooms used in religious ceremonies by the indigenous people of Mexico were considered sacred and were called "God's flesh" by the Aztecs. In the 1950s the active ingredients psilocyn and psilocybin were isolated from the Mexican mushrooms. Psilocyn and psilocybin produce effects similar to those of LSD.

The physical effects of psilocybin can include nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, yawning, drowsiness, tearing, facial flushing, enlarged pupils, sweating, and lack of coordination. The chemical takes effect within 20 to 30 minutes and lasts about 6 hours depending on dosage. Other physical effects include dizziness, diarrhea, dry mouth, and restlessness. The psychological and physiological effects of the drug include changes to auditory, visual, and tactile senses. Colors reportedly appear brighter and users report a crossing of the senses, for example, seeing a sound and hearing a color.

Psilocybin has been abused in Colorado for decades and is the most frequently encountered hallucinogen in the state. A number of law enforcement agencies in Colorado describe psilocybin availability in their jurisdictions as "constant." Psilocybin mushrooms are grown in various parts of Colorado. Many individuals in Colorado grow their own psilocybin mushrooms from kits legally obtained from counterculture groups. Criminal groups in Simla supply psilocybin mushrooms to the Denver metropolitan area. Boulder is reportedly a hub for psilocybin distribution throughout the western United States. DEA reports that an entrenched organization in Boulder distributed 400 to 500 pounds of psilocybin mushrooms per month for at least a decade at prices ranging from $600 to $800 per pound. The organization was dismantled in June 2002, and two psilocybin production sites were seized.


Diverted Pharmaceuticals

Diverted pharmaceuticals pose a significant and increasing threat to Colorado. The most commonly diverted pharmaceuticals in Colorado are opioids (narcotic analgesics) such as Dilaudid, OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Vicodin and sedative hypnotics (benzodiazepines) such as Valium and Xanax. Narcotic analgesics are prescribed to relieve moderate to severe pain. Most sedative hypnotics are prescribed to relieve anxiety; however, some are used as anticonvulsants to treat muscle spasms.

Pharmaceutical Diversion Methods

Methods of diverting pharmaceuticals include pharmacy diversion, doctor shopping, and improper prescribing practices by physicians. Pharmacy diversion occurs when pharmacy employees steal products directly from the shelves or through prescription forgeries. One of the most widely used diversion techniques is doctor shopping--individuals who may or may not have a legitimate ailment visit numerous physicians to obtain drugs in excess of what should be legitimately prescribed.

Abusers of diverted pharmaceuticals in Colorado use a variety of means to acquire the drug. Forged and fraudulent prescriptions remain the most common methods used. Unscrupulous physicians and healthcare professionals directly divert prescription medications for themselves and for others. DEA reports that oxycodone and morphine are abused by some doctors and nurses, while drug-abusing anesthesiologists prefer fentanyl. According to the Mineral County Sheriff's Office, pharmaceuticals are diverted through nursing homes and clinics in its jurisdiction. In addition, criminal groups and individuals transport a variety of diverted pharmaceuticals to Colorado on commercial flights. Seizures at Denver International Airport in 1999 included depressants (369 dosage units), Valium/diazepam (180 dosage units), and miscellaneous prescription drugs (3,444 dosage units). No pharmaceuticals were seized at the airport in 2000 or 2001. Local independent dealers are the principal distributors of diverted pharmaceuticals.


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