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Illinois Drug Threat Assessment
Other Dangerous Drugs
The category ODD comprises club drugs, diverted pharmaceuticals, and hallucinogens. Club drugs such as MDMA, ketamine, and GHB are becoming increasingly popular, particularly among young people in urban areas and in college towns. There is a mistaken perception that many of these club drugs are not harmful or addictive. Nightclubs and "rave" parties are the primary retail distribution points, although many of these drugs are increasingly being distributed in other environments. The diversion of legitimate pharmaceuticals such as Ritalin is a significant problem in Illinois. (See Appendix for responses to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2000.)
"Club" or "designer" drugs are general terms for synthetic drugs that have become popular with teenagers and young adults who frequent nightclubs and raves. These drugs include MDMA, PCP, ketamine, Rohypnol, GHB, and GBL (gamma-butyrolactone). The popularity of these drugs has increased in large part because their hallucinogenic and stimulating effects enhance the rave experience. There is also a perception that many of these club drugs are not harmful or addictive like cocaine and heroin. Many users are experimenting with a variety of club drugs, other drugs, and alcohol--an extremely dangerous combination. Law enforcement sources in urban areas and in college towns located in the Northern and Central Districts of Illinois report an increase in the abuse of these drugs.
MDMA is both a stimulant and hallucinogen. MDMA "trips" usually last from 4 to 6 hours, although the effect varies from person to person. If taken in tablet or capsule form, the onset of the effect takes approximately 30-45 minutes; if snorted, smoked, or injected, the effect is felt more quickly. Immediate physical reactions include increased heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure as well as nausea and cramping. The full effect is usually attained within an hour after ingestion and includes feelings of well being, euphoria, and clarity of thought as well as anxiety or paranoia.
Three overdose deaths in the Chicago area in the first few months of 2000 have been blamed on an MDMA analog known as PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine). PMA is a stimulant like MDMA, but it is much more powerful. It quickly raises body temperature and can cause heart failure, kidney failure, or stroke. It is typically stamped with the same three-diamond Mitsubishi logo that is associated with MDMA, and it is nearly impossible to detect the difference without a chemical analysis. The pills examined in these overdoses are known by the street name "Double-stack White Mitsubishi."
GHB and Rohypnol are often referred to as "date rape" drugs. They are powerful sedatives and have become a significant problem, particularly on college campuses. GHB is a central nervous system depressant that has been approved in some countries for use as an anesthetic. It is unlawful to produce or distribute GHB in the United States, but recipes and do-it-yourself kits are available on several Internet sites. Because GHB is odorless and colorless, it is virtually undetectable when mixed in beverages. The manufacturer of Rohypnol now adds a blue dye that is detectable in drinks, which may explain a decrease in the popularity of Rohypnol and an increase in GHB. When even small amounts of these drugs are mixed with alcohol, the victim loses consciousness for several hours. Teenagers and young adults attending rave parties take these drugs to lessen the "crash" associated with coming down from other drugs. There have been over 5,700 overdoses and 58 deaths associated with GHB in the United States and Canada since 1990.
Ketamine is growing in popularity in Illinois as a club drug on the rave scene and in all-night dance clubs, and its use is spreading from major metropolitan areas to smaller towns. Ketamine, also known as "Special K," "Vitamin K," or "kit-kat," is a chemical derivative of PCP primarily developed as an anesthetic for both veterinary and personal use. Ketamine can be used in its pharmaceutical liquid form or dried by evaporation or in a microwave oven to produce a white powder. In liquid form, ketamine has little to no smell and looks like water. Ketamine can be injected, smoked, swallowed, snorted, or mixed in both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks. Intramuscular injection is usually preferred because a burning sensation in the nasal passages associated with snorting powdered ketamine is very unpleasant. It also has an unpleasant taste in both liquid and powder forms. Although ketamine is often listed as one of the "date rape" drugs, DEA is aware of only one documented case nationwide in which ketamine was used to facilitate a rape. Ketamine produces a hallucinogenic effect similar to LSD but of less intensity and shorter duration, an hour or less. It is often used in conjunction with alcohol, cocaine, or marijuana. Dosage amounts vary greatly and are governed to a large degree by the individual's body weight. A typical dose for a 150-pound individual is about 100 milligrams when injected into a muscle and 200 milligrams when snorted. Small doses of ketamine act as a mild sedative, while larger doses lead to unconsciousness. Ketamine users experiment with increasing doses, seeking an intense psychedelic experience just short of unconsciousness. Overdose deaths from ketamine abuse are extremely rare because lethal limits are at least 20 to 30 times standard dosages.
The abuse of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide ) in the Chicago area appears to be declining. LSD potency, currently between 20 and 80 micrograms per dosage unit, is significantly lower today than it was in the 1960s when dosages were 100-300 micrograms. LSD users experience hallucinations, confusion, suspicion, and anxiety. Flashbacks can occur after a user has stopped taking the drug.
The diversion of legitimate pharmaceuticals is a significant problem in Illinois. Ritalin, a controversial drug prescribed for attention deficit disorder in children, may be gaining popularity as a recreational drug for teens and preteens. In May 2000, officials at a middle school in the Chicago suburbs announced that they disciplined 15 students accused of selling or abusing the drug. The Macon County Sheriff's Department in central Illinois reports that children with prescriptions for Ritalin are selling the drug to other children in school. According to DEA, Ritalin is among the controlled prescription drugs reported as most frequently stolen in the United States. Street names include "Vitamin R" and "R-Ball." A 1997 Indiana University survey of 44,232 young people nationwide showed that nearly 7 percent of high school students reported using Ritalin recreationally at least once in the previous year, and 2.5 percent reported using it monthly or more often. DAWN data reveal that in 1995 and 1996, 10- to 14-year-olds were just as likely to mention Ritalin as cocaine in a drug-related ED episode. Nearly 75 percent said they used the drug for psychic effects or recreation.
The availability of club drugs in Illinois is increasing, particularly in the Chicago area and in college towns. The Rockford Police Department reports that MDMA is the fastest growing drug problem in its jurisdiction. Several of the task forces and metropolitan enforcement groups report an increase in the prevalence of GHB and MDMA, especially on college campuses and in the northern part of the state. Jurisdictions in Central Illinois, particularly those associated with colleges and universities, are also beginning to report the availability of MDMA in their areas. Seizures of MDMA rose significantly in the Chicago area over the past 3 years. In the 6-month period ending in May 2000, USCS agents at O'Hare International Airport seized over 150,000 MDMA pills. MDMA seizures by USCS agents nationwide soared from 400,000 tablets in 1997 to over 3.5 million in 1999. In the first 7 months of 2000, USCS agents seized over 8 million MDMA tablets, more than 20 times the number seized in all of 1998.
Prices for other dangerous drugs have remained relatively stable over the past few years. See Table 8 for current prices in Chicago.
Table 8. Other Dangerous Drug Prices, 2000
Source: Chicago HIDTA, Threat Assessment FY2001.
The only known domestic source of illicit ketamine is diverted pharmaceutical products, primarily from burglaries and thefts from veterinary clinics. Thefts of ketamine from veterinary clinics in the Northeast and Midwest are increasing the availability of this drug to abusers. According to the Illinois State Police, there were at least 24 burglaries of veterinary clinics in northern Illinois during the last 9 months of 1999.
Ketamine is also purchased legally in Mexico and smuggled across the border. During the last quarter of 1999, law enforcement noted a significant increase in the number of arrests and seizures associated with ketamine along the California border with Mexico. DEA classified ketamine as a Schedule III drug in August 1999 in part because of reports of escalating abuse and diversion from legitimate sources.
The theft and diversion of ketamine is a relatively high profit, low risk venture. Most ketamine is sold through networks of friends or associates connected with the rave scene. Typically it is not sold on the street. A vial of liquid ketamine costing $7 is easily converted into a gram of powder that sells for as much as $200.
Violent crime is not normally associated with abusers of club drugs. However, rapes that result from the surreptitious use of date rape drugs would certainly be classified as violent crimes.
The production of club drugs occurs in foreign countries and domestically. At least 80 percent of all the MDMA in the world is produced in clandestine laboratories in Western Europe, primarily in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany. MDMA is pressed into pill or tablet form with a wide variety of recognizable logos such as the Mitsubishi three diamonds or a Nike Swoosh to identify various brands. There are reports of some smaller laboratories operating in the United States and Canada.
GHB can be made inexpensively using ingredients available in local supermarkets or specialty stores with recipes found on the Internet. In October 1999, a Southern Illinois University student pleaded guilty in federal court to manufacturing nearly 240 gallons of GHB in 1997.
Rohypnol is legally manufactured as a powder in Brazil and Switzerland, then shipped to Colombia and Mexico to be pressed into pills. Illicit shipments of Rohypnol are smuggled to the United States via overnight mail, commercial air, and pedestrian traffic across the Southwest Border.
LSD, most common in the middle- and upper-income areas of Chicago, has typically been produced in California in clandestine laboratories. In December 2000, however, two California men were arrested for allegedly operating an LSD laboratory in an abandoned Kansas missile silo. This laboratory produced almost one-third of the nation's supply of LSD--approximately a kilogram each month or enough for 10 million doses.
PCP is clandestinely manufactured in Los Angeles by a limited number of Bloods and Crips street gangs. PCP production is relatively simple and requires chemicals that are cheap and readily available.
MDMA is smuggled into Illinois from Europe, while PCP, LSD, and Rohypnol are transported from California and the Southwest Border area by a variety of methods. Most club drugs are transported to Illinois by mail and package delivery services or by couriers on commercial airlines and in private vehicles. Large quantities of 10,000 or more tablets are shipped from Europe to cities in the United States via express mail, couriers on commercial flights, and airfreight shipments. For example, in December 1999 the USCS intercepted a parcel package containing 22,000 MDMA tablets. The package, which originated in Paris, was transferred to the Illinois State Police for a controlled delivery. In November 1999, USCS and the Chicago Police Department seized over 7,000 MDMA tablets in several packages mailed from the Netherlands. There also was a seizure of 36,156 tablets of MDMA (street value $903,900) at O'Hare International Airport in October 1999. Three people were arrested when the MDMA, which originated in Germany, was found attached to their thighs and legs with surgical gauze and nylon pantyhose. Two of the individuals were from North Carolina and one was from Georgia.
Israeli and Russian organized crime syndicates supplied by Western European producers have become the major wholesale distributors of MDMA in the United States. These criminal groups work closely with Israeli and Russian midlevel wholesale distributors in large metropolitan areas in the United States.
GHB is usually distributed locally by the young Caucasian males who produce it. Lawful production of GHB only occurs in Europe. However, GHB is relatively easy to produce and the widespread publication of recipes and the ease with which precursor chemicals can be obtained make the clandestine production of GHB an increasing problem. Only two chemicals, both of which are legal to possess, combined with other common items are needed to produce GHB. Most illegally produced GHB is in liquid form. The powdered form of GHB is much more difficult to synthesize, and it is usually only converted into a powder when it is commercially manufactured.
Rohypnol is smuggled into the United States in parcel packages from Europe and South America. Rohypnol produced in Europe is shipped to Colombia and Mexico where it is pressed into pills, which are smuggled into the United States via overnight mail, commercial air, and pedestrian traffic across the Southwest Border. The pills are then distributed to independent wholesalers.
Nightclubs and rave parties are the primary retail distribution points for MDMA and other club drugs, although many club drugs are increasingly being distributed outside of clubs and raves. Retail dealers are typically white suburban teen-agers who are involved in the rave scene. Sales usually occur between friends and acquaintances. MDMA tablets in the Chicago area retail for approximately $25, while they are available at a wholesale price from 50 cents to $2 each. In Rockford, MDMA can be purchased in bulk for $15 per tablet, while single tablets sell for as much as $35 each.
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