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California - Southern District Drug Threat Assessment 
December 2000

Other Dangerous Drugs

The other dangerous drugs category comprises many drugs including those classified as "club drugs." The data presented here focus on various drugs, in order of significance, that present the biggest threat to the District of Southern California.

Numerous police departments and individuals who monitor drug use reported alarming increases in the popularity of club drugs. The term club drug describes various drugs used by young adults and teens at all night dance parties called raves or trances. These drugs are also encountered at other places of entertainment such as dance clubs and bars. Research sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has shown that club drugs may cause serious health problems and, in combination with alcohol, can be even more dangerous. In some cases, abuse of club drugs may cause death. Some of the drugs referred to as club drugs are ketamine, MDMA, GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), Rohypnol (flunitrazepam), and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). These drugs run the gamut from stimulants to sedatives to hallucinogens.

NIDA reports that some club drugs have been used to commit sexual assaults. Because they are colorless, tasteless, and odorless, some club drugs can be added to the beverages of unsuspecting potential victims. After ingesting, victims are incapacitated and, in some cases, may experience "anterograde amnesia." In other words, the victims of sexual assaults may not remember what happened to them while they were under the influence of the drug. Both Rohypnol and GHB have been linked to sexual assaults across the country. Another drug that is a growing concern is clonazepam. Clonazepam is a Rohypnol-type drug that is being used in sexual assaults.

The San Diego Sheriff's Department reports that the threat from club drugs such as ketamine, MDMA, GHB, and Rohypnol is moderate but increasing and that the use of these drugs among young adults and teens is growing. Ketamine and GHB are of particular concern. GHB is being produced in the area, and ketamine and clonazepam incidents have increased.

Information from the Chula Vista Police Department regarding club drugs concurs with San Diego Sheriff's Department reports. There has been a heavy influx of these drugs into the region. According to the Chula Vista Police Department, club drugs are more prevalent in the county than within the city. They also report occurrences of Rohypnol use in schools. Most of the Rohypnol encountered in the region is smuggled from Mexico.



Clonazepam is similar in pharmacology to benzodiazepine and diazepine. It is a prescription drug used as an anticonvulsant. Some adverse effects of clonazepam use include central nervous system depression, alterations in behavior such as aggressiveness, agitation, euphoria, forgetfulness, confusion, and ataxia (inability to coordinate muscles). Clonazepam is marketed in the United States as Klonopin and in Mexico as Rivotril. Clonazepam 0.5-milligram tablets are orange with Rivotril or Roche stamped on them. The 2-milligram tablets are white with Roche engraved on one side with cross-scoring on the other side.

Both the San Diego and the Chula Vista Police Departments report an increase in the abuse of clonazepam. The San Diego Police Department reports that the drug is being seized at junior and senior high schools. Users claim that it produces a high without the smoke and red eyes associated with marijuana and is easier to conceal. Heroin addicts choose Klonopin when they cannot afford heroin. Clonazepam is used to enhance the effects of heroin and other opiates.

Clonazepam is also being used to replicate the effects of Rohypnol, a date rape drug. According to anecdotal information, adults and teens are buying clonazepam in Mexico and bringing it into the United States. It may be sold for as little as a dollar a pill and is being called "the dollar date." Texas may be experiencing a similar problem. According to a 1999 report from the Texas Commission of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Mexican criminal groups are pushing clonazepam as a replacement for Rohypnol.

The San Diego City Council took the unusual step of creating an emergency law that makes it illegal to possess the drug clonazepam without a prescription. The countywide Narcotics Task Force said that the use of the drug is becoming more prevalent among youths and is being used for date rape. Clonazepam was used during the sexual assault of two women in two documented cases. Moreover, authorities suspect the drug is being used by sexual predators more frequently. The pills cost about 25 cents each in Mexico and are resold for about $1 each.

Source: San Diego Union-Tribune, 18 April 2000.


In 1999, 354 rapes were reported in San Diego, 70 percent involving victims under the influence of alcohol or some other drug.

Source: San Diego Union-Tribune, 15 April 2000.


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Ketamine, also called K, Special K, vitamin K, and cat valiums, is commercially sold as Ketalar. It is an injectable anesthetic that has been approved for both human and animal use. Ketamine is produced in liquid, powder, or pill form. Ketamine in its liquid form can be injected either intramuscularly or intravenously but it can also be made into a tablet or powder by evaporating the liquid. In powdered form, ketamine can be mistaken for cocaine or methamphetamine and is often snorted or smoked with marijuana or tobacco products.

At high doses, ketamine can cause delirium, amnesia, impaired motor function, high blood pressure, depression, and potentially fatal respiratory problems. Low-dose intoxication from ketamine results in impaired attention, learning ability, and memory. Short-term use of ketamine causes hallucinations; its major effect is dissociation, which includes out-of-body and near-death experiences. Ketamine gained popularity among abusers in the 1980s when it was discovered that large doses caused reactions similar to those experienced with PCP. Ketamine abusers in the United States and the United Kingdom have reported incidents similar to bad LSD trips. While under the influence of the drug, they may believe they can fly or may attempt to get out of moving vehicles. The San Diego Sheriff's Department reports an increase in the number of investigations involving ketamine.

Ketamine use is also increasing among some young people in Mexico. A recent report stated that ketamine was the drug of choice among high school students in Monterrey, Mexico. Monterrey is located in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, which borders southeast Texas. A bottle of ketamine sells for 155 pesos or US $16.

Intelligence reporting indicates that most of the ketamine found in San Diego and Imperial Counties is smuggled across the border from Mexico. The DEA Imperial County Resident Office has seen an increase in ketamine, which has become common at rave parties. San Diego County law enforcement recently raided a dance club and arrested 19 individuals, 4 of whom were dealing ketamine.

In March 2000, U.S. Customs seized 29 bottles of ketamine at the San Ysidro POE. The drug was wrapped in sandwich bags and duct tape and concealed inside the quarter panels of an automobile. In April 2000, Customs seized three shipments of ketamine that would have provided 162,400 hits. The shipments totaled 1,624 10-milliliter bottles, each bottle containing 10 hits (1 ml each). Two of the shipments had been hidden inside vehicle speaker boxes and one shipment included steroids. Another shipment, of 240 bottles packed in three children's puzzle boxes, was seized from two New Jersey men. The men had prepared mailing labels so that the ketamine could be shipped to New Jersey through a parcel service. The current price of ketamine is listed as $30-$45 per dose (0.02 grams) compared to $20-$25 in 1999.



GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), also known as liquid ecstasy, scoop, grievous bodily harm, and Georgia home boy, is abused for its euphoric, sedative, and anabolic effects; however, use can induce coma and cause insomnia, anxiety, tremors, and sweating. When GHB is combined with methamphetamine, there is an increased risk of seizure. Overdoses can occur quickly; some of the signs include drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and impaired breathing. GHB also clears from the body rather quickly and may be difficult to detect in emergency rooms and other treatment facilities. The drug is increasingly encountered in poisonings, overdoses, date rapes, and fatalities. GHB can be made from easily obtainable ingredients, one of which is GBL (gamma-butyrolactone), a solvent commonly used as a paint stripper.

The DEA San Diego Field Division reports an increase in GHB-related activity. The Field Division seized three GHB laboratories in 1999 and reports that the Parcel Interdiction Team at San Diego International Airport seized numerous GHB parcels destined for other parts of the country. The DEA San Diego Integrated Narcotics Task Force reports that two GHB laboratories have been seized so far in 2000. The San Diego Police Department reports that the GHB in powder form has been seen on the street. The most recent price quoted for GHB is $10 for 6 ounces. An episode demonstrating the risk involving GHB use occurred in March 2000 when a 22-year-old woman died from a drug overdose. She had attended a party in Oceanside, California, where she ingested an unknown substance. The officers involved in a follow-up investigation focused on GHB and found chemicals they believe were used to produce the drug.

GBL, a List I chemical used in the production of GHB, was not mentioned in reports but is a potential problem. When taken orally, GBL is converted into GHB in the body. On January 21, 1999, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about food supplement products containing GBL and requested that producers recall all products containing the additive. According to a January 2000 report, GBL has been implicated in at least six deaths nationwide. GBL is widely sold as both a powder and a liquid at gyms, fitness centers, and some health food stores. In February 2000, authorities in Phoenix, Arizona, arrested a man who was selling GBL through the Internet. The GBL was shipped to locations around the country including San Diego.

Another chemical related to GHB is butanediol (1,4-butanediol). It is a precursor to GHB and is used in the production of plastics and adhesives. Butanediol is a central nervous system depressant, which is converted into GHB in the body. Teens often carry the butanediol in small containers like mini-shampoo bottles. A bottle holds 4 doses of 1/2 teaspoon each and sells for 75 cents to $5. One dose has the same effect as alcohol at a blood level of 0.10 or 0.12.

In June 2000, a 17-year-old high school student in Bakersfield, California, overdosed on butanediol after he drank water into which he had mixed a dose of the drug. He blacked out and was taken to a hospital. His heart rate dropped to 30 beats per minute and his breathing to 6 to 8 times a minute. (A normal heart rate is 75 to 100 beats per minute while normal respiration is 16 to 20 per minute.) According to paramedics, drugs normally used to jump-start the heart after an overdose of narcotics such as heroin cannot counteract the effects of GHB or butanediol; paramedics can only provide an airway, do cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and maintain basic life functions until the drug wears off. The paramedics also reported that GHB, GBL, and butanediol are difficult to trace because they leave the body so quickly.

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MDMA (3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), also called Adam, ecstasy, XTC, E, or X, is a synthetic psychoactive drug with amphetamine-like and hallucinogenic properties. MDMA was patented in Germany in 1914 and was sometimes given to psychiatric patients to assist in psychotherapy. This practice was never approved by the American Psychological Association or the FDA. Users say MDMA, sometimes called the "hug drug," makes them feel good. However, the drug may cause psychological difficulties similar to those associated with methamphetamine and cocaine abuse including confusion, depression, sleep problems, anxiety, and paranoia. The physical effects include muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, blurred vision, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.

MDMA taken in high doses can be extremely dangerous. It can cause a marked increase in body temperature leading to muscle breakdown and kidney and cardiovascular system failure. MDMA use may lead to heart attacks, strokes, and seizures as reported in some fatal cases at raves. Recent research links MDMA to long-term, possibly permanent, damage to parts of the brain that are critical to thought and memory. There is also evidence that individuals who develop a rash after using MDMA may suffer severe liver damage or other serious side effects.

MDMA is available in both San Diego and Imperial Counties. Law enforcement in San Diego County raided a nightclub in May 2000 and arrested 19 individuals. Before the raid, undercover officers had purchased large amounts of MDMA inside the club. The current wholesale price for MDMA is $20-$25 per dose and $10 per pill, according to NIN.

According to DEA estimates, about 80 percent of the MDMA consumed worldwide is produced in clandestine laboratories in the Netherlands and Belgium. The DEA further reports that 95 percent of the MDMA that is available in the Los Angeles area is supplied by sources in European countries. Worldwide, Israeli criminals of Russian descent dominate distribution of MDMA but current information indicates that the Russian Mafia is also involved in the trafficking of the drug.

Some of the MDMA available in Southern California comes from European sources. In an incident in June 1999, USCS agents in San Diego arrested a Mexican citizen who was residing in the United States on suspicion of attempting to buy 11,600 MDMA tablets. Authorities also arrested two associates of the Mexican citizen, a male and a female, who attempted to bring the tablets into the United States from the Netherlands via the Minneapolis International Airport. The drugs, valued at $500,000, were found strapped to the ankles of the two subjects.

Law enforcement in San Diego and Imperial Counties reports that some MDMA is also being smuggled into the area from Mexico. Intelligence reporting indicates that there has been some involvement by Mexican criminal organizations in the trafficking of MDMA from Europe but the extent of their involvement is unknown. However, with the rising popularity of MDMA, Mexican criminal involvement may increase.

Approximately 23 kilograms of MDMA tablets were seized at the Mexico City International Airport. Two persons were detained after the drug was found in their luggage, an 18-year-old Dutch woman and a 24-year-old Mexican man. The estimated value of the drug was reported at $746,800.

Source:, 21 August 2000.



Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) also called roofies, rophies, Roche, and the forget-me pill belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazapines (Valium, Halcion, Xanax, Versed). Rohyphol is not approved for prescription use in the United States. Rohypnol produces sedative-hypnotic effects including muscle relaxation and amnesia and can also cause physiological and psychological dependence. Poison control centers in Miami report an increase in cases of withdrawal seizures among people using Rohypnol.

Until 1998, Rohypnol was colorless and dissolved quickly in liquid. In 1998, the manufacturer changed the formula, adding blue dye and making it more difficult to dissolve so that intended victims of sexual assault could more easily detect the drug in a drink. However, it has been noted that while this blue dye would be discernible in transparent containers it may not be detectable in opaque or metal containers. It has been suggested that the drug should also be made bitter to the taste.

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LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), also known as acid, boomers, and yellow sunshines, is a hallucinogen that induces abnormalities in sensory perceptions. The effects of LSD are unpredictable depending on the amount taken, the environment in which it is used, and the user's personality, mood, and expectations. Users may feel the effects for 30 to 90 minutes. The physical effects include dilated pupils, higher body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth, and tremors. LSD users report numbness, weakness, or trembling, and nausea is common. Two long-term disorders associated with LSD are persistent psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (flashbacks). LSD is typically taken orally; it is sold in tablet, capsule, and liquid form, and in pieces of paper that have absorbed the drug. Historically, LSD has been produced in Northern California.

LSD is available in the area and law enforcement in San Diego County reports an increase in the number of investigations involving the drug. In one recent case, 64.6 grams of LSD were seized from two females traveling on one-way tickets from San Diego to Oakland, California; they were carrying the drug in their pants' pockets.

The Chula Vista Police Department has had only minor contacts with LSD and has not identified any mainstream LSD dealing. Respondents to a February 2000 NIN survey identified eight organizations that are involved in the trafficking of drugs such as PCP and LSD in the Southern California area.


PCP (phencyclidine) was originally developed as an intravenous anesthetic. Use of PCP in humans was discontinued in 1965 because it was found that patients became agitated, delusional, and irrational while recovering from its effects. PCP is now illegally produced in clandestine laboratories and is sold on the street as angel dust, ozone, wack, and rocket fuel.

PCP is a white crystalline powder that is soluble in liquids and has a bitter chemical taste. It can be mixed with dyes and may turn up in the illicit drug market as tablets, capsules, or colored powders. PCP may be snorted, smoked, or eaten. For smoking purposes, PCP may be applied to mint, parsley, oregano, or marijuana. When combined with marijuana, it is called a killer joint, or crystal supergrass.

PCP is addicting; its use often leads to psychological dependence and compulsive craving. Users cite feelings of strength, power, invulnerability, and a numbing effect on the mind. At low to moderate doses, physiological effects include a slight increase in respiration and a more pronounced rise in blood pressure and pulse rate. Respiration becomes shallow, flushing and profuse sweating occur, and generalized numbness of the extremities and lack of muscle coordination also may occur. Psychological effects include distinct changes in body awareness similar to the effects of alcohol intoxication. PCP use by adolescents may interfere with the learning process and with hormones related to normal growth and development. At high doses, there is a drop in blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration. High doses can also cause seizures, coma, and sometimes death. Long-term abusers may suffer memory loss, difficulties with speech and thinking, depression, and weight loss. PCP has sedative effects and when mixed with alcohol or central nervous system depressants may lead to coma.

Area law enforcement reports that PCP is available in the area. Law enforcement in San Diego reports recent activity involving the drug; however, the Chula Vista Police Department has had only minor contacts with PCP and has not identified any mainstream dealing of the drug. According to NIN, authorities have identified about eight organizations or groups involved in the trafficking of dangerous drugs including PCP.



Khat is a natural stimulant found in the leaves of the Catha edulis plant, a flowering evergreen native to East Africa. However, the North California HIDTA reported that several grow sites had been located in Alameda and Monterey Counties. Fresh khat leaves are crimson-brown and glossy but become yellow-green and leathery as they age. The fresh leaves contain cathinone and d-methamphetamine; left unrefrigerated for 48 hours, the leaves would contain only cathine, a milder form of cathinone. The cathinone-cathine is ingested by chewing the leaves. Khat was placed on the Schedule I Federal Controlled Substance list in 1993.

In August 1999, Border Patrol agents seized about one-third of a pound of khat at a checkpoint on northbound I-15. The khat was rolled up in newspapers. There were two male occupants in the car, a Canadian citizen who resided in Toronto and a legal resident alien from Los Angeles; both were of Somali origin. According to the report, Customs officials at Los Angeles International Airport often intercept khat smugglers with shipments of up to 100 pounds. The San Diego Police Department reports that they are seeing some khat use among the Ethiopian and Somali populations.

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The California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement issued a warning on "huffing." Huffing is the sniffing of common household products such as paint, gasoline, and hair spray. Sniffing these inhalants can introduce toxins into the body causing damage to the liver, lungs, kidneys, brain, and even death. According to a news report, there were five deaths in San Diego in the last 5 years that have been attributed to inhalant abuse; two teenagers died in San Diego County in 1999, one by the method known as "bagging." In another example, 19-year-old was found with a plastic bag over his head and a can of shaving gel. Nationwide, inhalant abusers increased from 300,000 in 1991 to over a million in 1999. The average age of the inhalant abuser is between 12 and 13, although there have been reported cases of 5 year olds "huffing." 



Diversion of prescription drugs is of such concern in San Diego that the San Diego Police Department assigned officers to deal specifically with the problem. There is no significant group or organization involved in the diversion of pharmaceuticals. The main source of diverted pharmaceuticals continues to be unscrupulous doctors and pharmacies. There is also an increase in the use of the Internet to order controlled substances from pharmacies in Mexico and other foreign countries. Pharmaceuticals are also being smuggled across the border from Mexico by individuals and pedestrian couriers.

The most commonly diverted pharmaceuticals are hydrocodone products. Hydrocodone, a narcotic, is a semisynthetic pain reliever. The Community Epidemiology Work Group reports that mentions of narcotic drugs other than heroin have been increasing in many areas. San Diego had one of the highest rates of hydrocodone DAWN emergency department mentions per 100,000 in 1998. The August 2000 DAWN report indicates that, nationally, hydrocodone emergency department mentions increased 63 percent within the last 5 years--from 8,977 in 1995 to 14,639 in 1999. DAWN also reports that in 1998 there were 339 hydrocodone-related deaths nationwide. On the street Vicodin appears to be the preferred brand of hydrocodone; it sells for $3 per pill.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the latest trend is mixing prescription drugs with other substances. High school and college students are mixing such drugs as Ritalin (a stimulant) or Valium with alcohol or other drugs. A student at Rollins College in Florida died after ingesting a mixture of Inderal (a heart medication) and two antidepressants. Another concoction killed a student at Trinity College in Connecticut. He died after sniffing a combination of Valium, Xanax (antianxiety medication), an antimigraine medication, and sleeping pills. He had also been drinking alcohol and using heroin.

In November 2000, authorities in Lemon Grove, CA, reported that the body of a man was found inside his pickup truck and his wife's body was found in their apartment, both were apparent victims of drug overdoses. An investigator from the Medical Examiner's office reported that prescription drugs were found throughout the apartment.

Mexican manufactured Valium is also being diverted for illegal use; it sells for $1 to $3 per pill. According to DEA, Valium manufactured in the United States is almost nonexistent on the street.

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