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California Northern and Eastern Districts Drug Threat Assessment
Other Dangerous Drugs
The use of some drugs in the Other Dangerous Drugs (ODD) category is rising--especially LSD and "designer" or "club" drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy) and GHB. The 1990s saw the emergence of high energy, all-night dance clubs known as raves that feature hard pounding techno-music and flashing laser lights. Raves are found in most metropolitan areas throughout the country and can be held either at permanent dance clubs or temporary clubs set up in abandoned warehouses, open fields, or empty buildings for a single weekend event. Among the most popular club drugs is MDMA, which provides users with the energy and heightened sensory perception most seek to enhance their rave experience. Law enforcement authorities in Northern California see a growing threat from these drugs.
Raves are often promoted through flyers and advertisements distributed at clubs, in record shops and clothing stores, on college campuses, and over the Internet. Some rave club owners and promoters sell specialty items to dancers in a way that arguably promotes MDMA use. They provide bottled water and sports drinks to manage hyperthermia and dehydration; pacifiers to prevent involuntary teeth clenching; and menthol nasal inhalers, chemical lights, and neon glow sticks, necklaces, and bracelets to enhance the effects of MDMA.
Drug Enforcement Administration officials believe methamphetamine pills may become more popular among the general population, especially within the rave party scene.
California health authorities report an increase in the abuse of MDMA, ketamine (an animal tranquilizer), hydrocodone (a semisynthetic narcotic), diazepam (a sedative), steroids, and clonazepam (an anticonvulsant and a favorite of heroin addicts). California law enforcement officials report an increase in the use of ketamine and MDMA at raves. Ketamine can be injected in its liquid form or ingested orally in tablet or powder form. As a powder, ketamine can be mistaken for cocaine or methamphetamine. MDMA is typically in pill form and is ingested orally. PCP and psilocybin, both hallucinogens, are also abused in Northern California. There has been an increase in the number of investigations involving LSD.
The San Francisco representative to the National Institute on Drug Abuse Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) reports that GHB and its precursor GBL (gamma butyrolactone) are available in San Francisco. The CEWG also indicates that MDMA continues to be the most commonly used club drug among gay men in the community. In San Francisco, ED mentions of codeine, diazepam, and LSD decreased from 1995 to 1998. PCP mentions, after rising steeply between 1995 and 1996, declined in 1998 to 40 percent of the 1995 mentions.
Supplies of MDMA and GHB are plentiful at a large number of rave clubs in San Francisco and the Bay Area. MDMA sells for $20 to $40 per dosage unit. A recent DEA seizure of MDMA tested 90 percent pure. MDMA and GHB are very popular in San Jose. Raves are popular and widespread, and cater to high school and college age people.
LSD has regained popularity. Law enforcement reporting indicates that LSD is available in at least retail quantities throughout the region. LSD is sold under more than 80 street names including acid, blotter, cid, doses, and trips, as well as names that reflect the designs on sheets of blotter paper. Since 1978, the potency of this hallucinogen has generally ranged from 20 to 80 micrograms per dosage unit. This is considerably below the potency encountered during the late 1960s, when users ingested LSD that ranged in concentration from 100 to 300 micrograms or higher, often resulting in harmful reactions known as "bad trips." Lower potency doses probably account for the relatively few LSD-related emergency room incidents during the past several years. The drug is relatively inexpensive, from $1 to $10 per dosage unit, and is especially attractive to students from junior high school through college.
The pharmaceuticals most commonly diverted to illegal use are hydrocodone and its analogs; Klonopin (clonazepam); Vicodin, a narcotic that sells for $1 to $2 a pill on the street; and diazepam. Mexican-manufactured diazepam sells for $1-$2 a pill; U.S.-manufactured diazepam is almost nonexistent on the street. Unscrupulous doctors and pharmacy personnel continue to be the main source of diverted pharmaceuticals. No organization or significant group has been identified. The Internet is increasingly used to order controlled substances from pharmacies in Mexico.
Sexual assaults and violence against women are consequences of date rape drugs such as GHB and Rohypnol. Men typically slip these drugs into women's drinks to render them unconscious. GHB is a colorless liquid or powder with little odor and a salty taste that is a dangerous central nervous system depressant. Rohypnol decreases blood pressure, impairs motor skills, and causes mental confusion, drowsiness, memory loss, and possibly death. Since the beginning of 2000, four drug-related rapes have been reported in Chico, and officials at the Rape Crisis Intervention Center suspect that more went unreported. In early 2000, four college students in Chico were raped in one weekend. Two of them had either GHB or Rohypnol in their systems.
The San Francisco Police Department reports a recent interesting trend. Some members of the African-American community have turned to MDMA as a drug of choice. Money derived from street gang sales of MDMA helps fund the production of rap music, which has become a point of contention between two gangs, the Big Block and the Westmob. Four people were killed and six injured in shootings during 2000.
Sources for LSD supplies are located almost exclusively in the Bay Area. Crystalline LSD is mixed with binding substances or diluted to produce ingestible forms--small tablets known as microdots, thin squares of gelatin known as "window panes," on sugar cubes, and in eyedrop bottles. The most common form is small paper squares soaked in LSD.
LSD producers fall into two categories: major manufacturers that distribute nationwide and independents that distribute locally. California-based syndicates, which have operated with relative impunity for almost 20 years, control LSD production. They are located in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. There are some indications that LSD producers based in Oregon are supplying the drug in Northern California.
A small number of independent LSD laboratories operate in the Bay Area. Some are large, sophisticated laboratories producing bulk quantities of LSD a few times a year. Others are laboratories making small amounts on a regular basis. Authorities have seized very few LSD laboratories in the United States in recent years because of the variation in production cycles and the close-knit, fraternal associations the small number of producers have formed over the past two decades. In 1998, for example, DEA seized only one clandestine LSD laboratory. The wide availability of LSD found in a variety of blotter paper, microdots, and gelatin tablets is indicative of the existence of several different LSD producers.
DEA estimates that producers in the Netherlands or Belgium make a substantial proportion of the world supply of MDMA. Unique shapes or logos such as a shamrock or a Nike Swoosh on the tablets or pills assist users in identifying various brands of MDMA.
A variety of Internet sites either sell GHB or provide recipes for home production.
Most of the MDMA seized in 1999 originated in the Netherlands. The U.S. Embassy in the Netherlands reported a 925 percent increase in MDMA seizures (in kilograms) from 1998 to 1999, and that California was the destination for about 11 percent of MDMA seized. Most of the drugs were seized from luggage on commercial flights. Express mail services are now also commonly used to transport MDMA.
In May 2000, U.S. Customs seized 300 pounds of MDMA tablets at the San Francisco airport mail facility. This shipment, consisting of 490,000 tablets, arrived in air cargo from Paris and was destined for Los Angeles. Customs reported two recent seizures of MDMA tablets at the Oakland mail facility. The shipments from Germany, consisting of 10,000 and 8,500 tablets respectively, were destined for the Central Valley of California. Law enforcement sources report that Los Angeles distributors also supply MDMA to San Francisco.
Organizations using San Francisco as a West Coast transit point smuggle thousands of MDMA tablets per month from Europe to the United States. Russian and Israeli criminal groups are involved in transporting this drug. Vietnamese individuals also reportedly transport MDMA.
Increasing amounts of date rape and club drugs are being transported into California. Most Rohypnol in Northern California comes from Mexico. U.S. Customs recently reported two seizures of ketamine at the San Ysidro port of entry. One seizure involved 564 ten-milliliter vials; the second consisted of 8,200 ten-milliliter vials. California authorities noted a significant increase in GHB seizures, including three GHB laboratories in 1999. These seizures included numerous GHB-laden parcels that were destined for other parts of the country.
Wholesale quantities of LSD normally are concealed in greeting cards or magazines and sent via the mail or parcel delivery services using fictitious return addresses. Occasionally, wholesale distributors travel to California to meet their sources of supply and often make payments through legitimate money wiring services.
In San Francisco, drugs such as LSD, MDMA, and GHB are popular at rave parties, rock concerts, and the like. At these crowded and at times chaotic venues, the drugs are sold openly hand to hand. For future orders, the source of supply and the purchaser exchange phone numbers and meetings are set up at secure locations. Drugs are also distributed through the mail or through private package delivery firms.
Traditionally, much of the retail LSD distribution in the United States took place during concerts and tours of certain rock music bands. Over the past few years, however, raves have become popular venues for retail LSD distribution. Contacts made at raves are used to secure a steady supply of larger quantities of LSD. Although the gatherings may change, the pattern of LSD distribution does not: young adults sell LSD in quantities of up to 100 dosage units to people they know or with whom they share common interests.
The typical distribution structure is as follows: retail- or user-level sales range from 1 to 10 dosage units, low-level distributors sell 50 to 100 dosage-unit quantities, and midlevel distributors sell 1,000 dosage units and more. Midlevel distributors who normally convert LSD from a powder or liquid to blotter form often have more than one source of supply and sell to several lower-level dealers.
Trafficking networks directing the domestic distribution of LSD are based in and around the Bay Area (including the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco), Berkeley, and Santa Cruz. The majority of MDMA traffickers are U.S. citizens. About one-fifth of identified MDMA traffickers are Israeli.
A proliferation of mail-order sales has created a marketplace for LSD where the sellers are unknown to the buyers, giving the highest-level traffickers considerable insulation from drug law enforcement operations. The majority of users are middle-class high school and college students who are attracted by low prices and mistakenly believe that the drug is harmless. In 1999, a group based in Berkeley distributed LSD, MDMA, cocaine, and psilocybin mushrooms locally, as well as to Phoenix, Denver, Chicago, New York, and Massachusetts for a variety of college and rave drug traffickers.
San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force officers see increased designer drug use among teenagers. MDMA and GHB use among youth aged 12-18, particularly in high schools, is increasing. The drugs are sold openly at raves, high schools, and fast-food restaurant parking lots. Designer drugs rival marijuana as drugs of choice for high school-age children.
The Sacramento County Sheriff's Office indicates that GHB is becoming a problem. It is made locally and sold by individuals rather than by organizations.
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