ARCHIVED To Contents To Previous Page To Next Page To Publications Page To Home Page
National Drug Intelligence Center
North Carolina Drug Threat Assessment
Other Dangerous Drugs
Other dangerous drugs--including the stimulant MDMA; the depressant GHB and its analogs; the hallucinogens LSD, ketamine, and PCP; and diverted pharmaceuticals--are a growing threat to North Carolina. MDMA, GHB and its analogs, and hallucinogens are popular among young individuals in urban areas and college towns and are sold primarily by young Caucasian males on college campuses, at nightclubs, and at high energy, all-night dance parties called raves. The diversion and abuse of pharmaceuticals, most notably OxyContin, are growing problems in North Carolina. Law enforcement officers in several jurisdictions have conducted prescription fraud investigations, and thefts of pharmaceuticals are increasing. Thieves frequently target retail pharmacies, medical clinics, and nursing homes.
MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is an increasing threat to North Carolina. It is commonly distributed and abused in urban areas and college towns in the state. 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 occasionally given to psychiatric patients to assist in psychotherapy. This practice was 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 also can 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. Research suggests that MDMA abuse may result in long-term and sometimes permanent damage to parts of the brain that are critical to thought and memory.
Abusers ingest MDMA in tablet or capsule form. The onset of the drug's effects takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes. Effects usually dissipate in 4 to 6 hours. Anecdotal reporting from law enforcement officials in urban areas and college towns indicates that young people are increasingly abusing MDMA. The Durham Police Department, in response to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001, reports that young individuals at raves increasingly abuse MDMA.
Seizure data indicate that MDMA is readily available in North Carolina. Federal law enforcement authorities seized 6,015 MDMA tablets at North Carolina's major airports in FY2001, according to EPIC. Additionally, there have been several MDMA seizures by local law enforcement agencies in North Carolina. In April 2001 the Greensboro Police Department seized 6,000 MDMA tablets and arrested a Caucasian male who arrived in Greensboro on a passenger train from New York. The tablets were concealed in a small box inside a duffel bag. In January 2001, law enforcement officers in Greensboro seized 6,000 MDMA tablets and arrested two males, an Israeli national and a Russian national, who traveled to Greensboro from New York by private vehicle. The tablets were concealed in the engine's air filter. In November 2000, officers from the Asheville Police Department, the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office, and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation seized more than 900 MDMA tablets from a private vehicle and arrested a young Caucasian male who planned to distribute the drugs in Buncombe County. In Charlotte law enforcement officers report that Asian gangs are becoming increasingly involved in retail sales of MDMA.
MDMA tablets are usually stamped with a logo or symbol. The Mercedes and the Mitsubishi logos are two of the most common MDMA logos in North Carolina. Law enforcement authorities typically seize MDMA tablets stamped with a Florida Gator, the University of Florida mascot; hearts; horses; butterflies; elephants; alligators; clowns; the Star of David; Buddhas; the Calvin Klein logo (CK); Dino, the Flintstones pet; Teletubby characters; Superman; the Pink Panther; Papa Smurf; and an angel-like figure blowing a horn, referred to as a Pied Piper. Law enforcement officials also have seized yellow MDMA tablets and beige tablets with dark brown flecks called chocolate chips. In 2001 in North Carolina, MDMA tablets sold for $10 to $12 each at the wholesale level and for $18 to $40 each at the retail level, according to local law enforcement.
Violence associated with the distribution and abuse of MDMA is minimal in North Carolina; however, a few police departments have reported that some MDMA distributors are gang members who also sell crack cocaine and commit violent crimes. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department reports that African American crack cocaine dealers have begun distributing MDMA in the city because of the drug's high profit margin. Additionally, law enforcement officers in Charlotte report that members of Asian gangs distribute MDMA at nightclubs.
Most MDMA available in North Carolina is produced in Europe. According to DEA, laboratories in rural areas of the Netherlands and Belgium produce approximately 80 percent of the MDMA consumed worldwide. Laboratories have also been seized in Canada, Mexico, China, and increasingly in the United States.
There have been several attempts to produce MDMA in North Carolina. In February 2001 Greensboro law enforcement officers seized a laboratory that contained chemicals for producing MDMA and GHB. The operator, a Caucasian male, produced liquid MDMA; some of the drug was dried into powder, placed in empty gelatin capsules, and then distributed. Law enforcement officers reported that 1,000 MDMA capsules seized in Onslow County were produced in the laboratory in Greensboro. In November 2001 two Duke University students were charged with attempting to produce MDMA after they ordered chemicals used to make MDMA from a chemist in Texas. Law enforcement officers searched the students' dorm room and seized hydrochloric acid, sodium hydrochloride, cans of xylene and acetone, scales, and goggles.
Most MDMA is smuggled into the United States from Europe. Since the mid-1990s Israeli and Russian DTOs have dominated MDMA smuggling into the United States. They have established distribution hubs in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. From those distribution hubs, MDMA tablets are transported into North Carolina in private vehicles, via package delivery services, and on trains and airplanes. Some MDMA also is transported into the state from Atlanta, Georgia, using the same modes.
MDMA generally is distributed in North Carolina at raves, dance clubs, nightclubs, and bars, often in urban areas or on university and college campuses. Most MDMA retail distributors are middle-class and upper-middle-class Caucasian males aged 18 to 30.
The distribution and abuse of MDMA are a significant problem among young military personnel in North Carolina. The U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) reports that approximately 98 percent of its drug investigations in North Carolina involve MDMA. A recent 1-year investigation by NCIS identified 70 marines at Camp Lejeune who were distributing or abusing MDMA. Some marines had distributed large quantities of tablets--30,000 to 75,000--during a 90-day period. NCIS also reports that the number of marines testing positive for MDMA in random drug screenings has increased. The Wilmington Police Department, in response to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001, reports that undercover operatives have purchased MDMA and GHB at several bars in downtown Wilmington. Most of the distributors were military personnel from Camp Lejeune.
GHB and Analogs
The availability and abuse of GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) and its analogs--GBL, BD, GHV, and GVL--also are increasing in North Carolina.
GHB analogs are drugs that possess chemical structures that closely resemble GHB, a central nervous system depressant. GHB and its analogs are also known as liquid ecstasy, soap, scoop, Georgia homeboy, grievous bodily harm, liquid X, and goop. At lower doses they cause drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, and visual disturbances. At higher doses unconsciousness, seizure, severe respiratory depression, and coma can occur. Because of their sedative properties, GHB and its analogs also have been used to facilitate sexual assaults throughout the nation.
GHB and its analogs are abused in North Carolina at raves, bars, nightclubs, and private parties, primarily by middle- and upper-class teenagers and young adults. The Greensboro Police Department, in response to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001, reports that GHB is commonly available in its jurisdiction. GHB and its analogs are usually a salty tasting white powder or clear liquid that is often dissolved in a drink to mask the taste. GHB, GBL, BD, GVL, or GHV are often referred to as date rape drugs because they have been used to incapacitate victims to facilitate sexual assaults. When mixed with alcohol, they can cause a victim to lose consciousness for several hours. Within the first 3 months of 2001, six women in Onslow County reported being raped and had little recollection of the attacks. The Onslow County Sheriff's Department believes that the women unknowingly ingested GHB. GHB also has been linked to a number of overdoses in North Carolina. In the summer of 2000, six young people in Wilmington, ranging in age from late teens to early twenties, overdosed on GHB while partying together in an apartment. All six were treated at local hospitals and released.
GHB is produced by mixing GBL (gamma-butyrolactone) and sodium hydroxide. The process takes only a few minutes. In March 2000, law enforcement authorities in Mecklenburg County seized a GHB laboratory. There were two 55-gallon drums, each containing 1,000 pounds of GBL, at the site. According to local law enforcement, retail distributors sold liquid GHB for $5 per capful in North Carolina in 2001. Retail GHB and analog distributors are usually the same young Caucasian males who distribute MDMA.
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) distribution and abuse are low to moderate in most areas of North Carolina. LSD is abused most commonly by teenagers and young adults in urban areas. Also known as acid, boomers, and yellow sunshine, LSD induces abnormalities in sensory perceptions. The effects of LSD are unpredictable and depend upon the amount taken, the environment in which it is abused, and the abuser's mood, personality, 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 typically is taken orally and is sold in capsule, microdot, tablet, and liquid forms, and on pieces of blotter paper that have absorbed the drug. Abusers place drops of liquid LSD or LSD-laced candy, sugar cubes, or pieces of blotter paper on their tongues. Retail-level dealers frequently attempt to disguise LSD by putting it in small breath freshener or eyedrop bottles. These containers can hold up to 100 LSD doses.
Most of the LSD available in North Carolina is produced on the West Coast, principally in the San Francisco area. LSD usually is transported into North Carolina via couriers or package delivery services. Primarily, young Caucasian males sell LSD in cities and college towns across North Carolina. According to local law enforcement, individual LSD doses generally sold for $5 at the retail level in 2001.
Ketamine distribution and abuse are low to moderate in North Carolina. Ketamine, also known as K, special K, vitamin K, and cat valium, is an injectable anesthetic that is approved for 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 to produce powdered ketamine, which may be put into capsules. In its powdered form ketamine is often snorted or smoked with marijuana or tobacco products.
Low-dose intoxication from ketamine may result in impaired attention and learning ability, dissociation (including 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. Ketamine abusers in the United States and United Kingdom have reported incidents similar to bad LSD trips. Some abusers have tried to jump from moving vehicles or to fly.
Caucasian teenagers and young adults at private parties in urban areas of North Carolina are the primary ketamine abusers. There are very few reported ketamine seizures in North Carolina. Ketamine is transported into North Carolina from Florida and possibly other locations in private vehicles, via package delivery services, and on commercial trains and airplanes. Ketamine also is stolen from local veterinary clinics. Retail distributors are usually the same individuals who sell GHB, LSD, and MDMA.
Rates of PCP (phencyclidine) distribution and abuse in North Carolina are generally low. PCP was originally developed as an intravenous anesthetic. Use of PCP in humans was discontinued in 1965 because patients who 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 dye and is available as a tablet, capsule, or colored powder. PCP may be snorted, smoked, injected, or swallowed. For smoking purposes, PCP may be applied to mint, parsley, oregano, or marijuana. The abuser feels the effects of PCP within 2 to 5 minutes after smoking it, and its effects peak within 15 to 30 minutes. Effects may last from 1 to 8 hours.
PCP is addictive; its abuse often leads to psychological dependence, craving, and compulsive PCP-seeking behavior. Abusers experience feelings of strength, power, and invulnerability. At low to moderate doses physiological effects include a slight increase in respiration and a 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. At high doses blood pressure, pulse, and respiration rates drop. High doses also can cause seizures, coma, and sometimes death. PCP has sedative effects and, when mixed with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants, may result in an overdose or coma. Abusers who consume significant quantities of PCP over a long period may suffer memory loss, difficulties with speech and thinking, depression, and weight loss. PCP abuse by adolescents may interfere with hormones related to normal growth and development and the learning process.
Street gangs in Los Angeles produce most of the PCP available throughout the United States where precursor chemicals for PCP production are inexpensive and readily available. PCP is transported from Los Angeles into North Carolina by individual couriers in private vehicles or via package delivery services. Law enforcement officials report that they rarely seize PCP but that abusers smoke cigarettes dipped in liquid PCP or ingest powdered PCP sprinkled on leafy material. In July 2000 law enforcement officials in Brunswick County submitted 1 gram of plant material to the crime laboratory at the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation for analysis. The analysis identified PCP. There is insufficient information available to determine the individuals or groups involved in PCP distribution.
On rare occasions, PCP is produced in North Carolina. In December 2000, law enforcement authorities seized a PCP laboratory containing assorted chemicals and equipment in a residence in Craven County and arrested a member of the Pagan's OMG.
Diverted pharmaceuticals pose a growing threat to North Carolina. The number of law enforcement investigations associated with prescription drug diversion and the number of prescription drug thefts are increasing. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports that oxycodone products, particularly OxyContin, and hydrocodone products such as Vicodin and Lortab are frequently stolen, distributed, and abused. Thieves target retail pharmacies, nursing homes, medical clinics, pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, and prison units. They abuse the drugs themselves and distribute some amounts to their friends and families.
Pharmaceuticals may be diverted through employee theft, prescription forgery, improper prescribing practices by physicians, and doctor shopping. Doctor shopping occurs when individuals who may or may not have a legitimate ailment visit numerous physicians to obtain multiple prescriptions for the same drug.
OxyContin. The diversion, distribution, and abuse of OxyContin constitute the fastest growing prescription drug threat to North Carolina. OxyContin, like all oxycodone products, is an opiate agonist that provides 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. Individuals in North Carolina who abuse OxyContin seek to gain its heroin-like, euphoric effects. OxyContin was developed and patented in 1996 by Purdue Pharma L.P. Its effects last for 12 hours, making it the longest-lasting oxycodone product on the market. OxyContin abusers in North Carolina often mitigate the controlled-release feature of the drug by crushing the tablets and snorting the powder or by dissolving the tablets in water and injecting the liquid. The 40-milligram tablet, which sells on the street for $40, is the most popular dosage unit sold in North Carolina, according to law enforcement authorities.
Deaths attributed to abuse of oxycodone products, including OxyContin, are increasing in North Carolina. According to the North Carolina medical examiner, there were 6 fatalities in 1999 and 21 fatalities in 2000 attributed to oxycodone abuse. One fatality in 2000 was a 17-year-old male who died from an overdose after stealing OxyContin from a pharmacy where he worked. According to DEA, nearly 30 deaths as a result of OxyContin occurred in 2002, and it is a problem across the state but particularly in rural areas. Healthcare professionals report that there is no way to determine if an oxycodone product is actually OxyContin in a deceased person because it has been broken down by the body; however, it is reasonable to assume that many of the deaths involved OxyContin because the drug is increasingly abused in North Carolina.
OxyContin-related arrests are increasing in North Carolina. In March 2001, law enforcement officials in Wilkes County reported four to six arrests per month of individuals who were stealing or distributing OxyContin. In July 2001 a federal grand jury in Charlotte indicted 10 North Carolina residents for distributing 50,000 OxyContin tablets in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Ritalin. Legally prescribed for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children, Ritalin (methylphenidate) may be gaining popularity as a recreational drug for teenagers and preteens. The Wilmington Police Department, in response to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001, reported an increase in the abuse of Ritalin in middle and high schools within its jurisdiction.
End of page.