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District of Columbia Drug Threat Assessment
January 2002

Other Dangerous Drugs

ODDs for the most part are a threat to the District and include the club drugs MDMA, GHB, and ketamine; the hallucinogens LSD and PCP; the stimulant khat; and diverted pharmaceuticals. Many ODDs are sold by middle-class, suburban teenagers at raves, nightclubs, and on college campuses. MDMA is easily accessible, increasingly available, and associated with an increasing level of violent crime. Diversion of sedative hypnotics such as Xanax and Valium (both benzodiazepines); narcotics such as methadone, Dilaudid, Percocet, Percodan, and most recently OxyContin; and other prescription drugs is a developing threat. Law enforcement officials report that diversion of pharmaceuticals is a lucrative business.

ODDs such as MDMA, GHB, and ketamine are distributed at raves, rock concerts, and on college campuses. Suppliers and distributors prefer to distribute at crowded places where they can blend in easily, exchange phone numbers, and set up future meetings. Many of these drugs are also distributed by parcel delivery services or through the mail.

Raves and Rave Promoters

Raves have become key locations for ODD distribution since the 1990s. Raves, which feature hard pounding techno-music and flashing laser lights, have increased in popularity among teenagers and young adults. Raves occur in most metropolitan areas of the country. They can be either permanent dance clubs or temporary weekend event sites set up in abandoned warehouses, open fields, empty buildings, or civic centers. Raves are promoted through flyers and advertisements distributed at clubs, in record shops and clothing stores, on college campuses, and over the Internet. However, because of increased law enforcement pressure, raves are beginning to be promoted more secretly in the rave community.

Although rave promoters routinely deny awareness of drugs being sold and abused at the parties they promote, most rave club owners and promoters in D.C. sell specialty items associated with the abuse of ODDs. For example, club owners and promoters sell bottled water and sports drinks to prevent hyperthermia and dehydration and baby pacifiers to prevent injuries from involuntary teeth clenching--common side effects of MDMA abuse. Rave club owners also sell menthol nasal inhalers, chemical lights, neon glow sticks, necklaces, and bracelets to enhance the sensory effects of MDMA. MDMA increases a person's energy level and heightens sensory perception.

Source: Pennsylvania Bureau of Narcotics Investigations, Brief on Club Drugs, 20 December 2000.

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Club Drugs

MDMA is the ODD most commonly distributed and abused in the District. MDMA, also known as Adam, ecstasy, XTC, E, and X, is a stimulant and low-level hallucinogen. MDMA was patented in 1914 in Germany where it was sometimes given to psychiatric patients to assist in psychotherapy, a practice never approved by the American Psychological Association or the Food and Drug Administration. Sometimes called the hug drug, MDMA purportedly helps abusers to be more "in touch" with others and "opens channels of communication." However, abuse of the drug can cause psychological problems similar to those associated with methamphetamine and cocaine abuse including confusion, depression, sleeplessness, anxiety, and paranoia. The physical effects can include muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, blurred vision, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. MDMA abuse can also cause a marked increase in body temperature leading to muscle breakdown, kidney failure, cardiovascular system failure, stroke, or seizure as reported in some fatal cases. Researchers suggest that MDMA abuse may result in long-term and sometimes permanent damage to parts of the brain that are critical to thought and memory.

OCDETF investigations indicate that MDMA is becoming increasingly available in D.C. Five of the 37 OCDETF investigations in D.C. from October 1998 to June 2001 were MDMA-related, ranking fourth after cocaine, heroin, and marijuana investigations. Four of those investigations occurred between November 2000 and April 2001. In April 2001 local and federal authorities in D.C. dismantled a suburban drug ring whose members stored MDMA in their homes. The drug ring sold as many as 200,000 MDMA tablets, usually in large quantities, with an estimated value of $5 million at raves and clubs in D.C.

MDMA is frequently transported to D.C. from Miami, Newark, New York, and Philadelphia, among other cities, via couriers or express mail services. A significant percentage of the MDMA smuggled to D.C. arrives at Newark or John F. Kennedy International Airports on flights originating in various European cities. Couriers conceal MDMA in backpacks or in luggage. The MDMA is then transported to D.C. in private automobiles or via commercial carrier services (bus or train). Many thousands of MDMA tablets are also transported using express mail services and hidden in inventive ways--concealed beneath wood-laminate veneer on furniture, in hollowed-out books and wooden toys, or inside bicycle tires. The DEA Washington Division also reports that some U.S. military personnel assigned overseas or to military bases from Virginia to Florida send significant quantities of MDMA through express mail services to D.C.

MDMA shipments ranging from multigram to multihundred-gram quantities (0.3 gram is usually equal to one tablet) are frequently transported through the D.C. area. Law enforcement officials made two MDMA seizures at Union Station in 2000, according to Operation JETWAY data. One seizure was over 30,000 dosage units (usually one tablet equals a dosage unit); the other seizure exceeded 15,000 dosage units. Both shipments were destined for Florida.

Retail-level MDMA distributors are usually high school or college age students from the middle and upper-middle classes. Law enforcement officials report that these distributors have little understanding of the threat posed by the distribution and abuse of the drug. These individuals do not usually distribute MDMA as part of an organized group bound by loyalty or long-standing affiliations, as is often the case with crews that distribute cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and other drugs. Violence associated with the distribution and abuse of MDMA has recently become a threat to D.C. as crews have started to distribute MDMA. Law enforcement officials report that the new level of violence associated with MDMA is comparable to that associated with crack in the 1980s and 1990s.

MDMA Distribution and Murder

On March 15, 2001 a 21-year-old male was shot to death in the driveway of his townhouse in Prince William County, Virginia. Police seized thousands of MDMA tablets and over $300,000 worth of high-grade marijuana in the largest MDMA seizure ever in the county. Law enforcement officials believe that a ring of MDMA distributors operating in Northern Virginia, D.C., and Maryland may be responsible for the murder.

Source: Washington/Baltimore HIDTA Threat Assessment 2002.

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MDMA is sold at clubs in Adams-Morgan and downtown near 10th and F Streets Northwest, as well as at many local colleges and universities. MDMA is frequently sold with marijuana or other drugs that will help the abuser "come down" from MDMA more easily. The average price of an MDMA tablet is $25 to $30 in D.C. The tablets are usually stamped with a logo; over 100 logos are available in D.C., according to DEA. MDMA tablets stamped with the Mitsubishi logo are among the most popular in the world. According to the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA, some of the Mitsubishi-labeled MDMA tablets sold in D.C. also contain heroin. Other common logos available on MDMA tablets in D.C. include the four-leaf clover, the five rings associated with the Olympics, and various forms of smiley faces. Some of these smiley faces have a line for a mouth and others have a moon-shaped mouth; some have circles for eyes and others have "X X" for eyes. Counterfeit MDMA tablets are also sold, some containing other controlled substances such as methamphetamine, ketamine, cocaine, or PCP instead of MDMA.

The threat from GHB is increasing in the District. GHB, also known as liquid MDMA, scoop, grievous bodily harm, and Georgia homeboy, is a depressant that is produced by the body and is necessary for full functioning of the brain and central nervous system. The synthetic version of GHB has been increasingly involved in poisonings, overdoses, date rapes, and fatalities. Using GHB and methamphetamine simultaneously (co-using) increases the risk of seizures. GHB overdoses can occur quickly; some effects include drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, impaired breathing, and death. Abusers can also experience insomnia, anxiety, tremors, and sweating. Because GHB is eliminated from the body quickly, detection is difficult.

GHB is frequently available in social settings involving middle- and upper-class teenagers. GHB is sold in D.C. at raves, bars, and nightclubs; it has also been seized at universities in the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA region. In D.C. the liquid is usually sold in small vials for $10 to $25 per dosage unit, according to MAGLOCLEN.

Ketamine is a growing threat to the District. Ketamine, also known as K, special K, vitamin K, and cat valium, is an injectable anesthetic that is approved for both human and animal use. Ketamine is sold commercially and is produced in liquid, powder, and pill forms. The liquid form is injected intramuscularly. Liquid ketamine can be boiled into powdered ketamine, some of which is put into capsules. In its powdered form, ketamine can be mistaken for cocaine or methamphetamine and is often snorted or smoked with marijuana or tobacco products.

Low-dose intoxication from ketamine may result in impaired attention, learning ability, and memory; disassociation, which includes out-of-body and near-death experiences; and hallucinations. High doses of ketamine can cause delirium, amnesia, impaired motor function, high blood pressure, depression, and potentially fatal respiratory problems. Ketamine gained popularity among abusers in the 1980s when it was discovered that large doses caused reactions similar to those experienced with PCP abuse (see PCP section). Ketamine abusers in the United States and the United Kingdom have reported incidents similar to bad LSD trips. Some abusers try to jump from moving vehicles or fly.

Miami-based wholesale distributors, usually Russian or Israeli, supply most of the ketamine available for distribution in the District. Ketamine is usually smuggled by couriers traveling on commercial aircraft to the District. However, break-ins at local veterinary clinics are also sources of the drug. Ketamine is available most frequently in social environments involving Caucasian teenagers from the middle and upper classes. The drug is sold frequently in D.C. nightclubs and dance scenes in an eighth-of-a-gram quantity of powder or in liquid form. A bottle of ketamine sold for approximately $60 to $80 in FY2001 in D.C., according to DEA. The price is a slight decrease from that of FY2000 when a bottle sold for approximately $100, indicating that ketamine may be available more readily than it had been previously.

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LSD distribution and abuse create challenges for law enforcement officials, but the threat appears to be decreasing. LSD, also known as acid, boomer, and yellow sunshine, induces abnormalities in sensory perceptions. The effects of LSD are unpredictable, depending upon the amount taken, the environment in which it is abused, and the abuser's personality, mood, and expectations. Abusers may feel the effects for up to 12 hours. The physical effects include dilated pupils, higher body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, loss of appetite, nausea, numbness, weakness, insomnia, dry mouth, and tremors. Two long-term disorders associated with LSD are persistent psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (flashbacks). LSD is typically taken orally.

Wholesale distributors in California transport LSD to criminal groups in the District primarily in private automobiles or through express mail services. LSD is available in blotter and liquid forms in D.C., particularly at raves, and is almost always sold in conjunction with other drugs. The DEA Washington Division reports that LSD is not as popular as it was over a decade ago. Most abusers are high school and college age individuals. LSD can be ingested by placing a drop of the liquid drug, which is frequently carried in breath or eyedrop bottles, on a piece of candy or directly on the tongue. Crystal LSD is also available in limited quantities in the District. LSD crystals are odorless, tasteless, water soluble, and usually clear or white in color but, with impurities, may be yellow, tan, or even black. Manufacturers usually sell undiluted LSD crystals in multigram quantities to a limited number of distributors in D.C. who then sell gram quantities. Grams of crystal LSD are diluted with binding agents or dissolved and diluted with liquids that are placed on blotter paper or sold in other forms. In general, 1 gram of crystal LSD yields 10,000 dosage units of LSD. Abusers in the District also report "candy flipping"--co-using LSD and MDMA. One dosage unit (approximately one liquid drop or a blotter square) of LSD in D.C. sells for $2 to $5, and 100 dosage units (usually one liquid bottle or one sheet of blotter paper) sell for $200 to $300, according to MAGLOCLEN.

PCP distribution and abuse in D.C. are low but increasing. PCP was originally developed as an intravenous anesthetic. Use of PCP in humans was discontinued in 1965 because patients that were given the drug became agitated, delusional, and irrational. PCP, also known as angel dust, ozone, wack, and rocket fuel, is now illegally produced in laboratories in the United States. PCP is a white, crystalline powder that is soluble in water and has a bitter taste. The drug can be mixed with dyes and is available in tablet, capsule, or colored powder form. PCP may be snorted, smoked, injected, or swallowed. For smoking purposes, PCP may be applied to mint, parsley, oregano, or marijuana. When combined with marijuana, the mixture is called a killer joint or crystal supergrass.

PCP is addictive; its abuse often leads to psychological dependence, craving, and compulsive PCP-seeking behavior. Abusers 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 may also occur. Psychological effects include distinct changes in body awareness similar to the effects of alcohol intoxication. PCP abuse by adolescents may interfere with hormones related to normal growth and development and the learning process. At high doses, blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration drop. High doses can also cause seizures, coma, and death. Abusers that consume significant quantities of PCP over a long period of time may suffer memory loss, difficulties with speech and thinking, depression, and weight loss. PCP has sedative effects and, when mixed with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants, may result in an overdose or coma.

The number of PCP abusers in D.C. is low but increasing. The number of PCP ED mentions in D.C. increased from 112 in 1998 to 141 in 2000, according to DAWN data. A large portion of this increase is attributed to an increase in the number of younger abusers in the District. According to ME data, four PCP-related deaths occurred in D.C. in 1999. The District also had 16 PCP admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities in 1998 and 26 in 1999, according to TEDS data.

Retail distributors of PCP are usually African American independent dealers and criminal groups that purchase the drug from wholesale distributors based in Southern California. Criminal groups based in Cleveland, Newark, New York City, and Philadelphia also supply D.C. criminal groups with wholesale quantities of PCP, but to a lesser extent. For example, DEA reports that a Jamaican individual residing in New York City hired couriers to transport wholesale quantities of PCP from New York City to D.C. by train in 2001.

Most reporting regarding the availability of PCP is derived from marijuana investigations since PCP is frequently smoked in blunts. PCP packaged in envelopes stamped with brand names is sometimes mistaken for heroin. According to MAGLOCLEN, PCP in a cigarette sold for $10 to $15, $300 to $500 for a liquid ounce, and $18,000 to $22,000 for a gallon in the District. The DEA Washington Division reports that PCP sold for $700 to $950 per ounce during the first quarter of FY2001. Two of the 37 OCDETF investigations in D.C. from October 1998 to June 2001 were PCP-related.

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Khat is an emerging threat to the District. Khat, also known as qat, African salad, and Bushman's tea, is a natural stimulant found in the leaves of the Catha edulis plant, a flowering shrub native to Northeast Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Fresh khat leaves are crimson-brown and glossy but become yellow-green and leathery as they age. The leaves contain cathinone; if left unrefrigerated for 48 hours after picking, the leaves contain only cathine, a milder, less potent form of cathinone. The cathinone-cathine, ingested by chewing the leaves, can produce a caffeine-like jolt and a 24-hour high. Khat abuse can produce manic behavior, paranoid delusions, hallucinations, and damage to the nervous and respiratory systems. Khat abuse in the United States appears to be limited to an ethnic-cultural enclave consisting of immigrant communities from Arabian, East African, and Middle Eastern countries. Khat was made a Schedule I drug in 1993.

The Metropolitan Police Department and the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA have reported an emerging threat of khat abuse in the area. One of the 37 OCDETF investigations in D.C. from October 1998 to June 2001 was khat-related.

Khat is transported from Northeast Africa and the Arabian Peninsula by air to preserve freshness. Couriers flying on commercial aircraft, sometimes transiting other cities, transport khat. Khat is also shipped to the District via express mail services from Northeast Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Khat must be transported promptly after it is harvested because as the leaves dry, they lose their stimulatory properties. Khat is typically wrapped in bouquet-size bundles in banana leaves and tied for transporting. The bundles, sprayed with water to keep them moist, are packed into suitcases. In October 1999 law enforcement officers arrested a courier who had flown from London to Washington Dulles International Airport and seized 58 pounds of khat that was destined for distribution in the District.


Diverted Pharmaceuticals

Diverted pharmaceutical depressants pose a growing concern to the District. DEA diversion investigators indicate that some medical practitioners are overprescribing drugs such as sedative hypnotics (benzodiazepines) and opioid (narcotic) analgesics. Most sedative hypnotics are used to relieve anxiety; however, some are used as anticonvulsant agents to treat muscle spasms. Narcotic analgesics are used to relieve moderate to severe pain. The most frequently abused sedative hypnotics in D.C. are Xanax and Valium; the most frequently abused opioid analgesics are methadone, Percodan, Percocet, and Dilaudid. The oxycodone product OxyContin is an emerging threat, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. The DEA Washington Division reports that methadone and Percocet are the most commonly diverted drugs in the District and that pharmaceutical diversion is a lucrative business. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia reports that methadone, Percocet, and Xanax are diverted from professional medical practices into the illicit market.

OxyContin emerged as a problem in D.C. in 2000. Law enforcement reports indicate that D.C. is a distribution center for OxyContin and that abusers travel from other regions to purchase the drug. D.C. police officials report that OxyContin is sold outside heroin addiction treatment facilities because OxyContin produces effects similar to those produced by heroin. OxyContin is available in 10-, 20-, 40-, and 80-milligram tablets; each milligram generally sells for $1. The 40-milligram tablet, which sold for $40, was the most popular dosage unit sold in D.C., according to the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA. Some employees at pain clinics in Northern Virginia were reportedly dispensing OxyContin illegally. Additionally, some abusers steal OxyContin from local pharmacies. In the first quarter of 2001 OxyContin was stolen from a pharmacy known by DEA to distribute large quantities of opiate prescriptions. Many D.C. abusers crush the drug and take it orally; others dissolve the tablets and inject the solution to obtain the drug's effects in a shorter period of time. Law enforcement officials arrested a 39-year-old mother of two for distributing the drug and other painkillers from her Dale City home in Northern Virginia. The woman had taught her 15-year-old son how to inject the drug.

Pharmaceuticals are diverted in a variety of ways including pharmacy diversion, "doctor shopping," prescription forgery, and improper prescribing practices by physicians. Pharmacy diversion also occurs when pharmacy employees steal products directly from the shelves. Along with prescription forgery, one of the most widely used diversion techniques is doctor shopping. In doctor shopping, individuals who may or may not have a legitimate ailment visit numerous physicians to obtain drugs in excess of what should be legitimately prescribed.

Law enforcement reports indicate that some individuals over 60 years of age distribute prescription drugs in D.C., often to supplement their income or sustain a drug habit. Law enforcement officials describe these individuals as "small-time players in a violent trade dominated by young men." These older distributors sometimes work with their relatives and distribute the prescription drugs out of their homes or on street corners.

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