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Pennsylvania Drug Threat Assessment
June 2001

Other Dangerous Drugs

The abuse of other dangerous drugs (ODDs), including club drugs and illegally diverted pharmaceuticals, poses an increasing threat to the state of Pennsylvania. Club drugs available in Pennsylvania include a variety of stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens. Diverted pharmaceuticals are readily available in the state, and oxycodone abuse has increased sharply during the past year. Although ODDs pose less of a threat than cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine, their increasing abuse and distribution are a cause for concern.

The abuse of club drugs--particularly MDMA, GHB, ketamine, and LSD--continues to rise. The term club drugs refers to any of a number of synthetic drugs that are often sold to young adults and teenagers at all-night dance parties called raves (see text box). The drugs of choice at raves in Pennsylvania are MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), ketamine, and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). Law enforcement authorities are increasingly encountering these drugs at raves in the state, and the Pennsylvania State Police reports that rave attendees are also trying to obtain 2C-B (also known as "Nexus"), a hallucinogen not scheduled in Pennsylvania. In May 2000, state and local law enforcement officials arrested 23 suspects accused of selling ketamine, LSD, and MDMA at raves in Lancaster County and York. On New Year's Eve 2000, Pennsylvania State Police arrested 13 people, including six juveniles, after confiscating suspected MDMA, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana during traffic stops near a rave in Washington County.


Raves are all-night dance parties that typically feature heavy-rhythm techno-music and flashing laser lights. Raves are found in most metropolitan areas of the country, and they are appearing more recently in many rural areas as well. Party organizers hold raves at established facilities such as dance clubs, or in empty warehouses or fields rented for the occasion. The Shaler Township Police Department near Pittsburgh reports that some skating rinks are now hosting raves, and DEA Pittsburgh indicates that at least one MDMA trafficking organization tried to build its own rave club in Pittsburgh in 1999. Raves often are promoted through fliers and advertisements that are distributed at other raves or posted in record shops, in clothing stores, on college campuses, or on Internet sites.

Raves cater to young partygoers, many of whom travel from outside the area to attend. Alcohol is rarely sold at raves because most attendees are too young to purchase it; however, the sale and use of club drugs are common. Rave promoters typically sell items that arguably promote MDMA use, including bottled water and sports drinks to manage hyperthermia and dehydration; pacifiers to protect users from involuntary teeth clenching caused by MDMA use; and menthol nasal inhalers, chemical lights, neon glow sticks, necklaces, and bracelets that help users maximize their sensory pleasure after taking MDMA. Although raves clearly cater to club drug users, there is no direct evidence that rave managers participate in or profit from the drug sales that occur there. Nevertheless, many of them possess long criminal histories that include drug charges.

Club drugs are increasingly being distributed and abused in social venues other than raves. The Northhampton Township Police Department (Richboro, Pennsylvania) reports that club drugs are being sold at schools, bars, and on the street. The Easttown Township Police Department (Devon, Pennsylvania) indicates that club drugs are sold at established nightclubs and concerts, and they, along with the West Pottsgrove Township Police (Stowe, Pennsylvania), report that club drugs are available at many private house parties as well.

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MDMA, also known as ecstasy, X, and E, is a synthetic stimulant with mild hallucinogenic properties, similar in chemical composition to methamphetamine. MDMA is taken orally in pill or capsule form. Users begin to feel the effects of the drug within 1 hour of ingestion, and the effects may last up to 6 hours depending on the dose, the purity, and the environment in which it is taken. Some users take as many as 10 pills in a single night in order to continue their high. MDMA greatly increases a person's blood pressure and heart rate. Body temperatures can rise to 109 degrees if the user is engaged in some physically exerting activity, such as dancing. Other physical effects that may occur include muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, faintness, chills or sweating, extreme relaxation, and tremors. Ultimately, MDMA use can result in a heat stroke or heart failure.

The availability and abuse of MDMA are growing in Pennsylvania, and law enforcement reports MDMA is one of the most popular club drugs. Once primarily obtained in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, MDMA is now readily available in most areas of the state. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Drug Law Enforcement reports a sharp increase in use and availability throughout the commonwealth. DEA Pittsburgh reports that MDMA use is prevalent in Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Narcotics indicates that MDMA is increasingly abused in Erie by users who drive to Ontario, Canada, to obtain the drug. The West Pottsgrove Township Police Department reports that MDMA abuse is rampant among teens, and West Whiteland Township Police Department (Exton, Pennsylvania) authorities report increased distribution and abuse of MDMA in their jurisdiction. The Upper Merion Township Police Department (near Philadelphia) indicates that unlimited quantities of MDMA are available, and the Easttown Township Police Department, located in a suburb west of Philadelphia, reports that MDMA and GHB now pose the greatest drug threat in that area. Indiana Borough Police officials report that MDMA is readily available at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in southwestern Pennsylvania. As evidence, officials point to a December 2000 seizure of 15.4 pounds of MDMA, which was shipped from Germany and intercepted en route to two Indiana University of Pennsylvania students. The estimated revenue that would have been generated from the distribution of the seized MDMA was $1.4 million. In January 2001, the U.S. Customs Service seized 210,000 MDMA pills worth an estimated $5.25 million that were hidden in the luggage of two German travelers at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Most MDMA available in Pennsylvania is produced in the Netherlands and Belgium, and is shipped through New York City to Pennsylvania for distribution. Highly organized Israeli crime syndicates are the chief source of MDMA for U.S. distribution groups. Law enforcement indicates that Russian organized crime groups are also involved in MDMA distribution in southeastern Pennsylvania. The Northhampton Township Police Department reports that Russian criminal groups are distributing wholesale quantities of MDMA and that Caucasian and Russian criminal groups are selling the drug at the retail level. MDMA pills, often 10,000 or more, are smuggled into the United States by couriers traveling aboard commercial airlines or are sent in express mail packages or airfreight shipments from European cities to major points of entry in the United States, primarily New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. Although MDMA can be manufactured inexpensively, the drug commands high retail prices, generally selling for $15 to $35 a pill. The Pennsylvania State Police reports that in the Pittsburgh area, a single dose of MDMA sells for $20 to $30, a "jar" of 100 pills sells for $1,200 to $1,500, and a "jug" of 1,000 pills sells for $7,500 to $10,000. Club drug distributors in Pennsylvania often use e-mail instead of telephone calls and face-to-face meetings to arrange drug shipments and sales.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently increased the guideline penalties for importing or selling MDMA. As of May 1, 2001, the new sentencing guidelines increase the likely prison term for selling 200 grams (about 800 pills) of MDMA from 15 months to 5 years. The penalty for selling 8,000 pills has risen from 41 months to 10 years.

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GHB--also known as Grievous Bodily Harm, Lay, Liquid X, Liquid E, and Fantasy--is a central nervous system depressant that initially was used by body builders to stimulate muscle growth. In recent years, young adults at raves have begun to use the drug. GHB is usually ingested orally, either in pill or liquid form, and a dose generally costs from $5 to $20. The drug is sometimes called a "date rape drug" because some women have been raped by men who secretly administered GHB to physically debilitate their victims and block their memory. GHB is odorless, colorless, and practically undetectable in a drink. Medical and law enforcement experts report that users can lose consciousness within 20 minutes of ingesting GHB, and the drug's traces usually disappear from the body within 24 hours.

GHB is gaining popularity in Pennsylvania. Increases in abuse and availability, combined with a lack of public information regarding the drug, have contributed to a rise in the number of overdoses and rapes. The number of GHB overdose cases continues to grow and frequently makes headline news in locations throughout the state. For example, two people were found unconscious in a downtown State College (central Pennsylvania) hotel room after an apparent GHB overdose in January 2000. In March 2000, six people were found unconscious at a State College home after intentionally drinking what investigators believe was GBL (gamma-butyrolactone), a GHB analog and chemical precursor. At least three of the individuals were Pennsylvania State University students. There have been 8 overdoses in 2 years on the campus and in the surrounding towns.

GHB is a factor in numerous pending rape cases in the state as well. The Pennsylvania Attorney General reported that in 1999 there were 10 known and 50 suspected rape cases involving GHB in the state. Since 1998, the Pennsylvania State Police have investigated four reported rape cases near East Stroudsburg University in the eastern part of the state in which they suspect GHB was used. According to the Pennsylvania State Police, GHB has replaced Rohypnol, another "date rape drug," as the drug of choice for sexual predators.

GHB is a Schedule I drug in Pennsylvania, and possession for personal use or distribution is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison or a fine up to $250,000, or both.

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Ketamine hydrochloride, also known as special K and K, is a general anesthetic used primarily in veterinary medicine. The drug can produce the effects of a depressant, a stimulant, or a hallucinogen, depending on the user and the dosage. Ketamine, like PCP, is abused for its disassociative or hallucinatory properties, which vary from user to user. Disassociative effects often cause users to feel paralyzed from the neck down for the first 5 to 30 minutes after administration, a state referred to as "the K-hole." Hallucinations sometimes occur when the drug's anesthetic effects wear off after 4 to 6 hours. The drug looks similar to pharmaceutical-grade cocaine, and users snort it, drink it mixed in alcoholic beverages, or smoke it with marijuana.

Ketamine has become very popular in Pennsylvania, particularly among high school and college students. In May 2000, 22 bags of ketamine were seized from a party in New Holland in southeastern Pennsylvania, and on September 30, 2000, law enforcement officials found numerous bags of ketamine at a rave east of Harrisburg in the town of Lebanon. Most supplies are diverted, primarily from veterinary clinics. Ketamine costs approximately $10 to $20 per vial, according to DEA Philadelphia. In the Pittsburgh area, a vial of ketamine (1 to 1 grams) sells for $80 to $90 and yields 18 to 20 doses. A single dose sells for $20 in Pittsburgh.

Ketamine was federally scheduled in August 1999 as a Schedule III controlled substance. Pennsylvania Senate Bill 618, currently pending, would add ketamine to the Pennsylvania Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act as a Schedule I drug.



LSD, commonly called acid, is a potent hallucinogen found naturally in ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. Experienced chemists can also synthesize the drug. The effects of LSD vary according to the amount taken and the method of administration. Almost all effects are gone after 8 to 12 hours, although the effects can last up to 24 hours, and users may have flashback episodes for months. Physical effects may include dilated pupils, lowered body temperature, nausea, "goose bumps," profuse perspiration, increased blood sugar, and increased heart rate. During the first hour after taking LSD, the user may experience extreme mood changes and impaired depth and time perception as well as distortions in sounds, colors, movements, and the size and shape of objects. Higher doses can produce anxiety or depression.

LSD is available throughout the commonwealth, and law enforcement sources report an increase in the drug's abuse. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Narcotics reports increased LSD abuse in Erie, and says the number of Caucasian males 18 to 24 years of age using hallucinogens has risen. Galeton Police Department officials report a "big comeback" in LSD use in their jurisdiction, and the Northhampton Township Police Department indicates LSD in gel-tab form has become more readily available. In March 2001, the Cambria County Drug Task Force seized 800 hits of LSD, valued at $4,000, and charged two Indiana, Pennsylvania, men, aged 21 and 20, with LSD possession, unlawful delivery, and conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver. LSD users in Pennsylvania are chiefly high school and college students who can easily afford the drug. LSD is usually sold in gel capsule or blotter paper form and costs $3 to $5 per dosage unit (approximately 30 to 75 micrograms) or $250 to $400 per sheet (containing 100 dosages).

According to NHSDA data for 1999, 6.8 percent of individuals aged 12 or older in Pennsylvania reported using LSD in their lifetimes. Past-year use was reported by only 0.9 percent of the individuals surveyed, and only 0.2 percent reported past-month use of LSD.

LSD is a Schedule I drug in the Pennsylvania Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act. Delivery, manufacture, or possession with intent to deliver or manufacture is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison or a fine of up to $15,000, or both. Possession is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to a 1-year imprisonment or a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

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Diverted Pharmaceuticals

The diversion and abuse of pharmaceuticals are serious and growing problems in the state, particularly in western Pennsylvania. Members of all socioeconomic classes, racial groups, and age groups abuse pharmaceuticals. Synthetic opiate oxycodone products such as Percodan, Tylox, and OxyContin are the most frequently diverted and abused pharmaceuticals, according to DEA Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office reports that OxyContin abuse steadily increased in 2000. The Pennsylvania Department of Health, Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Programs reports that treatment admissions for synthetic opiates--including some, but not all, pharmaceuticals--almost doubled from 1996 (639) to 2000 (1,201). Opiate hydrocodone products such as Lortab, Lorcet, and Vicodin are also popular in Pennsylvania. Other diverted and abused pharmaceuticals include Ritalin, hydrocodone-based cough syrups, Xanax, Valium, Dilaudid, Soma, and Klonopin.

OxyContin (see text box) is the pharmaceutical drug of choice in western Pennsylvania. The Cambria County Task Force reports that 30 percent of its undercover drug buys from early 2000 to September 2000 involved OxyContin, up from 2 percent in 1997. Numerous burglaries and pharmacy robberies in Cambria County in 2000 and 2001 were linked to OxyContin abuse. For example, the Johnstown Police Department reports that the high abuse of OxyContin has led to increased property crime and theft, including a January 2001 incident in which a man stole over $1,000 worth of OxyContin from a Johnstown pharmacy. Heroin abusers in Altoona are buying large amounts of OxyContin, and the Altoona Police Department reports an increase in the abuse of OxyContin, which can be used as a heroin substitute. The Blair County Drug Task Force reports that heroin users in the county are increasingly abusing OxyContin because they believe it is safer than heroin and produces a better high. DEA Pittsburgh reports widespread OxyContin abuse in New Castle, and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police reports increased OxyContin abuse as well. The medical director of one of Pittsburgh's largest treatment centers reports that OxyContin is one the fastest growing drugs of abuse in the Pittsburgh area, indicating that 10 to 12 new people a week are being admitted to his facility for abuse of the drug. Law enforcement authorities in Westmoreland County indicate that OxyContin abuse is increasing there as well, including in Arnold and New Kensington, where abuse has doubled, and in Greensburg. The Fayette County Drug and Alcohol Commission reports that OxyContin's popularity skyrocketed in the past year and that an estimated $500,000 to $600,000 will be spent to treat Fayette County OxyContin addicts in 2001. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Narcotics also reports increased OxyContin abuse in Erie.


OxyContin is a brand name for the narcotic oxycodone hydrochloride, an opiate agonist. Opiate agonists are central nervous system depressants that provide pain relief by acting on opioid receptors in the spinal cord, the brain, and possibly the tissues directly. Opioids, natural or synthetic classes of drugs that act as morphine, are the most effective pain relievers available. Oxycodone is manufactured by modifying thebaine, an alkaloid found in opium. Oxycodone has a high abuse potential and is prescribed for moderate to high pain relief associated with injuries, bursitis, dislocation, fractures, neuralgia, arthritis, and lower back and cancer pain. The drug is also used postoperatively and for pain relief after childbirth. Percocet, Percodan, and Tylox are other brand names for oxycodone.

Oxycodone is abused for its euphoric effects or to allay symptoms associated with oxycodone or heroin withdrawal. Long-term oxycodone users can develop a tolerance or resistance to the drug's effects. For instance, cancer patients who take oxycodone on a regular basis are able to take doses that would kill a person who does not take oxycodone or another opioid regularly.

OxyContin is an oral, controlled-release oxycodone that acts for 12 hours, making it the longest lasting oxycodone product on the market. Patients taking shorter acting oxycodone products, such as Percocet, may need to take the drug every 4 to 6 hours. Although drug doses vary by individual, the typical OxyContin dose prescribed by physicians ranges from two to four pills per day. The strength, duration, and known dosage of OxyContin are the primary reasons the drug is attractive to both legitimate users and abusers; by comparison, Percocet and Tylox contain 5 milligrams (mg) of oxycodone, and Percodan-Demi contains only 2.25 mg.

OxyContin was developed and patented in 1996 by Purdue Pharma L.P. and is available in 10-, 20-, 40-, 80-, and 160-mg tablets. In May 2001, Purdue Pharma temporarily suspended shipments of the 160-mg tablets until the company further studies the diversion potential and abuse of the tablet. The company also stopped distributing and shipping 40-mg OxyContin tablets to Mexico after reports that the drug was being diverted and rerouted back into the United States. Purdue Pharma will continue to ship 10- and 20-mg doses to Mexico, but is changing the pill markings from "OC" to "MX" to make them easily identifiable.

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OxyContin abuse is increasing in eastern Pennsylvania as well. The Philadelphia/Camden HIDTA reports OxyContin is a growing problem in Philadelphia, where abuse has led to an increased number of pharmacy robberies. There also has been a rise in OxyContin abuse by Philadelphia teenagers, who are reluctant to inject heroin but want to experience similar effects. The Upper Merion Township Police Department, also reports a dramatic increase in the abuse of both OxyContin and Ritalin in their jurisdiction.

Pharmaceutical diversion occurs in a variety of ways, including "doctor shopping" by abusers, improper prescribing practices by physicians, and diversion from pharmacies. In addition, law enforcement agencies surveyed by the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey reported an increase in prescription fraud. DEA Philadelphia reports that improper prescribing practices by physicians are the most commonly reported diversion method. In March 2001, a Philadelphia physician who allegedly prescribed OxyContin and Xanax for patients without ever examining them was charged with forgery, delivery of a controlled substance, and practice of osteopathic medicine and surgery without a license.

The presence of multiple drugs has been detected in many deaths in Pennsylvania. The Blair County Coroner, Cambria County Coroner, and City of Philadelphia Health Department all report the presence of multiple drugs in many of their cases. In Philadelphia, for example, an average number of 3.2 drugs were present in decedents examined in the first half of 2000. Propoxyphene, a narcotic sold under the brand name Darvon, was identified in several Blair and Cambria County coroner cases.



Several inhalant-related student deaths occurred in Pennsylvania in early 1999, and inhalant abuse remains a problem in the state. NHSDA data for 1999 indicate that 7 percent of Pennsylvania individuals aged 12 or older have used inhalants in their lifetimes. Past-year use was reported by 1.3 percent of individuals surveyed, and past month use was reported by 0.5 percent. The Easttown Township Police Department reports that teens using inhalants in vehicles pose a threat in its area.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health, Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Programs suggests that the inhalant abuse problem is minor relative to other drugs. From 1996 to 2000, there were 441 admissions to drug and alcohol programs with inhalants as the primary drug of abuse, and the number of admissions has shown a downward trend, dropping from 105 in 1996 to 58 in 2000. By comparison, there were more than 31,000 admissions to state treatment programs with alcohol as the primary drug of abuse from 1999 to 2000 alone.


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