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Louisiana Drug Threat Assessment
Other Dangerous Drugs
The other dangerous drug (ODD) category comprises many drugs including those classified as club drugs. Club drugs are becoming increasingly popular, particularly among the young. 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. Club drugs include MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), ketamine, Rohypnol (flunitrazepam), and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). Formerly associated primarily with young people in urban areas and college towns, club drugs have now permeated every corner of the state. There is a mistaken perception among the young that many of these drugs are not harmful or addictive. 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. The NIDA reports that some club drugs have been used to facilitate sexual assaults. Because the drugs are colorless, tasteless, and odorless, they can be added to beverages of potential victims. After drinking the beverage, 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.
Some police departments in Louisiana report that the diversion of pharmaceuticals represents the most serious trend in drug abuse in their area. Oxycodone, a powerful opiate-based pain reliever, sold under brand names such as OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, and Tylox, represents the most commonly abused pharmaceutical in Louisiana. Also, Tussionex, a powerful prescription cough medicine containing hydrocodone, is already popular in the Alexandria area and is increasing in popularity elsewhere. Called "liquid bars," the drug is mixed with juices and sipped. Other commonly diverted pharmaceuticals include Vicodin, Lortab, Dilaudid, and Soma, a powerful muscle relaxant.
MDMA, 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 Food and Drug Administration. 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.
People under the influence of MDMA seek constant sensory stimulation. Users wave chemical glow sticks in front of their eyes to stimulate the sense of sight, massage one another to stimulate the sense of touch, and heighten the sense of smell by wearing surgical masks lined with menthol to dilate the nasal passages. MDMA users experience a strong sense of euphoria and a loss of sexual inhibitions. Most users consume 3 to 10 pills within a "dance" or "party" night.
While MDMA is sometimes produced in the United States, most MDMA distributed in Louisiana is produced in the Benelux countries of Europe where the necessary precursor chemicals are readily available. Nationwide, seizures have gone from approximately 400,000 doses in 1997 to 3 million in 1999. USCS reported a record 9.3 million pills seized in FY2000, an increase of 166 percent over 1999. Since the mid-1990s, Israeli and Russian DTOs have dominated MDMA smuggling to the United States, although some small U.S. organizations have established their own sources of supply in Europe. The smuggling organizations commonly use express mail services to deliver pills to a customer. They often put loose pills inside jigsaw puzzles to avoid x-ray detection and ship the pills anonymously to mailbox rental facilities. DTOs prefer using female couriers traveling on round-trip tickets to smuggle MDMA in false-bottomed, carry-on luggage aboard commercial flights into the United States. There are indications that Vietnamese trafficking groups are increasingly involved in the distribution of MDMA in the New Orleans area.
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 in the parking lots and surrounding areas. Retail dealers are typically Caucasian suburban teenagers who are involved in the rave scene. Young ravers, normally between the ages of 13 and 18, are known as "Candy Kids" or "Candy Ravers" and are often exploited by older ravers known as "Club Kids." Club Kids often front MDMA at after-hours parties for distribution to lower level retail distributors in their home cities. The availability of MDMA in suburban areas is reported to be higher after rave weekends. MDMA costs on average between $15 and $60 per pill (considered one dosage unit).
Many clubs throughout the state are designating rave nights and providing the loud, pulsating music and psychedelic light shows that are indicative of the genre. The rave scene is well established in New Orleans and was growing significantly in Baton Rouge until law enforcement pressure made the organization and promotion of raves more difficult through increased scrutiny. Many law enforcement agencies throughout the state report taking a tough stance against rave promoters in an attempt to reduce the illegal drug activity often associated with them. Rave parties, a term used to describe a special event organized by investment groups or production companies, are larger than rave clubs and are put on periodically throughout the state in places ranging from warehouses to barns to open fields. There are numerous rave sites on the Internet listing dates, times, and locations of upcoming parties, as well as advice on how to use the various types of drugs easily available at these parties. Mailing lists are also used to notify ravers of upcoming events.
GHB, also known as liquid ecstasy, scoop, grievous bodily harm, and Georgia home boy, is abused for its euphoric, sedative, and anabolic effects; however, its use can induce coma and cause insomnia, anxiety, tremors, and sweating. When GHB is combined with methamphetamine, there is an increased risk of seizures. Overdoses can occur quickly; some of the effects include drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, impaired breathing, and death. GHB is also cleared from the body rather quickly and may be difficult to detect in emergency rooms and other treatment facilities. The drug is increasingly involved in poisonings, overdoses, date rapes, and fatalities.
Law enforcement officials near college campuses and those familiar with the club scene in New Orleans indicate the use of the drug rose significantly over the last 2 years but tapered off in late 2000 and the first several months of 2001. Police indicate the university crowd is routinely involved in the distribution and abuse of the drug. Laws put into effect in January 2001 severely punishing those possessing or distributing GHB are believed responsible for a recent decrease in the amount of GHB available on the streets. 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. GHB can be made from easily obtainable ingredients, one of which is GBL (gamma-butyrolactone), a solvent commonly used as a paint stripper. Vials and bags of powdered GHB are sold in $20, $40, and $50 sizes. The average price per dosage unit (a capful or tablespoonful) of liquid GHB is $5 to $30
GBL, a chemical used in the production of GHB and sometimes taken alone because GBL is converted into GHB in the body, is becoming increasingly popular. On January 21, 1999, the Food and Drug Administration 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 Louisiana. The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office reported overdoses from a product used by bodybuilders that contains GBL as its active ingredient. At least one individual has lapsed into a coma while using this product, known as "knock-out-punch."
Another chemical related to GHB is butanediol (1,4-butanediol), a precursor to GHB 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 such as mini-shampoo bottles. A bottle holds 4 doses of one-half teaspoon each and sells for $0.75 to $5. One dose has the same effect as alcohol at a blood level of 0.10 or 0.12.
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 seizure among people using Rohypnol.
Rohypnol is odorless, tasteless, and dissolves in beverages. It can cause severe retrograde amnesia. The effects of Rohypnol are exacerbated by the use of alcohol, and even without alcohol, 1 milligram can impair or incapacitate a victim for 8 to 12 hours. Because of these characteristics, it has been used as a date rape drug. 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 these changes, although discernible in a transparent container, may not be detectable in an opaque or metal container. It has been suggested that the drug also be made bitter to the taste.
Rohypnol is usually smuggled into Louisiana by locals who drive to Mexican border towns to purchase it. It is also transported into the state by way of the mail or delivery services. Reports indicate that it is often sold for $5 or less per dosage unit, although it may sell for $10 to $20 per dosage unit.
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 disassociation, which includes out-of-body and near-death-like experiences. Ketamine gained popularity among abusers in the 1980s when it was discovered that large doses caused reactions similar to those experienced with the hallucinogen PCP (phencyclidine). Ketamine abusers in the United States and the United Kingdom have experienced incidents similar to bad LSD trips. While under the influence of the drug, some may believe they can fly and others have attempted to get out of moving vehicles.
Ketamine has been classified a Schedule III drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act and has therefore become somewhat more difficult to obtain. Illicit ketamine distributors in Louisiana are known to make frequent trips to Mexico where the sale of the drug is not as closely monitored as in the United States. Because it resembles water in its liquid form, ketamine is often smuggled and transported in water bottles. One case in Jefferson Parish involved two local individuals who attempted to smuggle approximately 1,500 grams of ketamine from Mexico by concealing it in four plastic bottles marked "Vanilla Extract." Ketamine is also shipped via package delivery services. An early 2001 investigation from the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Department involved the shipment of a case of ketamine from Panama to Baton Rouge via Florida. Ketamine is one of the most commonly used anesthetics in veterinary medicine and there have been a series of veterinary office break-ins in which ketamine appeared to be the primary target. In Mexico, a bottle of ketamine sells for 155 pesos or US$16, while in the United States, factory-sealed vials of liquid ketamine sell for between $30 and $150. Powdered ketamine, prepared for retail distribution, is sold in $20, $40, and $50 vials and plastic bags.
Although ketamine is normally found in liquid or powdered form, it is occasionally found in pill form. The Southwest Louisiana Criminalist Laboratory in Lake Charles reported analyzing tablets that contained ketamine--20 green tablets inscribed with an "FY" logo and 98 yellow tablets with a "P" logo.
LSD, 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 feel the effects within 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 and is sold in tablet, capsule, liquid, and in pieces of paper that have absorbed the drug. Historically, LSD has been produced primarily in the San Francisco Bay area of California.
LSD is available in cities and college towns throughout the state. Baton Rouge police report an increase in the number of investigations involving the drug. Wholesale distribution frequently occurs at or around concerts and festivals attended by "hippies," who are allegedly involved in the trafficking of crystal, or "raw" LSD. One gram of crystal LSD will produce 10,000 dosage units. Crystal LSD is converted to liquid form. It is then sold on blotter paper or in small breath freshener containers, referred to as "vials," which hold 100 dosage units (100 drops) each.
The retail distribution of LSD is becoming increasingly diverse as distributors are constantly developing new ways to market their product. Retail distributors often place one drop of liquid LSD directly onto a user's tongue or onto sugar cubes. In Louisiana, the most common form of LSD is blotter paper. The paper can be plain white or it can possess any number of designs including cartoons, album covers, or mosaics. A current trend in LSD packaging is the "Gel Tab." Distributors dissolve crystal LSD, mix it with gelatin, and allow it to dry in any number of "molds." Police and forensic chemists in Louisiana report an increase in the number of candies with a drop of LSD in the center. LSD sold as "microdots," tiny pills (3/32 of an inch or smaller), have become rare.
Police in Louisiana report that a single dosage unit or "hit" of LSD can be purchased for between $5 and $10. Because pure LSD is manufactured by a limited number of people throughout the country, the wholesale prices remain relatively constant. A gram of crystal LSD (which lower level dealers then convert to liquid) sells for $2,500 to $15,000. Vials sell for $90 to $300 each. "Sheets" (100 doses) of LSD blotter paper sell for $80 to $400; "books" (1,000 doses) sell for $800 to $6,000.
Prescription fraud, the sale of prescriptions by unscrupulous medical professionals, and outright theft are the most frequent means of obtaining or diverting pharmaceuticals for illegal use. In southern Louisiana, police, pharmacists, and health care providers indicate the problem is compounded by a small number of doctors who write prescriptions for the sole purpose of making money. Police also report that some sick people who actually require the medications are selling off their surplus supplies to supplement their income.
Law enforcement officials report that many distributors of illicit pharmaceuticals in Louisiana make the short trip to Mexican border towns where many of these drugs can be purchased either without a prescription or from unscrupulous pharmacies willing to provide controlled medications to anyone with the money to purchase them.
The powerful opiate painkiller OxyContin is being abused throughout Louisiana, but is particularly problematic in Louisiana's southeast parishes. In St. Bernard Parish the abuse of OxyContin, known on the street as "killers," has become so acute that the drug now rivals cocaine in its influence on crime and violence. Police, pharmacists, and substance abuse treatment centers in this area report that the problem is fueled in part by physicians who write prescriptions for the drug without performing proper screenings or examinations.
OxyContin is a trade name product for the generic narcotic oxycodone hydrochloride, an opiate agonist. Opiate agonists provide pain relief by acting on opioid receptors in the spinal cord, brain, and possibly in the tissues directly. Opioids, natural or synthetic classes of drugs that act like morphine, are the most effective pain relievers available. Oxycodone is manufactured by modifying thebaine, an alkaloid found in opium. Oxycodone has a moderate abuse liability and is prescribed for moderate to high pain relief associated with injuries, bursitis, dislocation, fractures, neuralgia, arthritis, and lower back and cancer pain. It is also used postoperatively and for pain relief after childbirth. Percocet, Percodan, and Tylox are other trade name oxycodone products.
Oxycodone is a central nervous system depressant. Oxycodone appears to work by stimulating the opioid receptors found in the central nervous system that activate responses ranging from analgesia to respiratory depression to euphoria. People who take the drug repeatedly can develop a tolerance or resistance to the drug's effects. Thus, a cancer patient can take a dose of oxycodone on a regular basis that would be fatal in a person never exposed to oxycodone or another opioid. Most individuals who abuse oxycodone seek to gain the euphoric effects, avoid pain, and avoid withdrawal symptoms associated with oxycodone or heroin abstinence.
OxyContin is an oral, controlled-release oxycodone that acts for 12 hours, making it the longest-lasting oxycodone on the market. Patients taking shorter-acting oxycodone products, such as Percocet, may need to take the product every 4 to 6 hours. While drug doses vary by individual, the typical dose prescribed by a physician ranges from two to four tablets per day. OxyContin was developed and patented in 1996 by Purdue Pharma L.P. and was originally available in 10 milligram (mg), 20 mg, 40 mg, and 80 mg tablets. A 160 mg tablet became available in July 2000. By comparison, Percocet and Tylox contain 5 mg of oxycodone and Percodan contains just 2.25 mg. The oxycodone dosage and duration of OxyContin are the primary reasons the drug is attractive to both abusers and legitimate users.
In St. Bernard Parish OxyContin abuse is having a measurable impact on the community. In a parish of just over 80,000 people, OxyContin is responsible for at least five overdose deaths between October 2000 and January 2001. Users in St. Bernard Parish have learned that by chewing the tablet or crushing it and then snorting it, they are able to overcome the time release component of the drug. Police report users also dissolve OxyContin in water and inject it
Police and pharmacists in St. Bernard Parish are concerned
about an increase in armed robberies, like those in other parts of the
country, as users attempt to obtain the drug. Police in St. Bernard Parish
reported a 60 percent increase in burglaries in the early months of 2001.
Liquid Bars (Prescription Cough Syrup Containing Hydrocodeine)
"Liquid Bars" or simply "Bars," a drug that is formulated by mixing prescription cough syrup containing hydrocodone with cola or juice, is becoming increasingly popular in some parts of Louisiana, primarily in the area surrounding Alexandria. The drug acts as a depressant and is often used in conjunction with marijuana or alcohol because, from the user's perspective, the effects complement each other. Forensic chemists report most of the Liquid Bars they have encountered have been created by mixing a drink, usually a presweetened grape drink, with Tussionex, a prescription cough syrup containing hydrocodone. Although police report encountering the drug as far back as 1993, it has grown more popular of late because it has been featured in pop culture including rap songs and videos. In the past, a baby bottle was the preferred container to use while "sipping" Liquid Bars, although recently, police report users prefer to use a juice or cola bottle because it attracts less attention. Tussionex sells for approximately $14 an ounce with a legitimate prescription while police report it is bringing approximately $30-$40 per ounce on the street. Police report that many users in Alexandria obtain Tussionex by going to Houston where they allege several doctors are running so called "pill mills," or in this case "cough-syrup mills."
Other Commonly Diverted Pharmaceuticals
There are several other commonly diverted pharmaceuticals that are abused at high levels throughout Louisiana. Soma (carisoprodol), a powerful muscle relaxant, is one of the most common. Others pharmaceuticals include Xanax, Vicodin, Lorcet, Dilaudid, and Darvocet, all powerful pain relievers. Also popular are Valium and Codeine.
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