Date Rape Drugs Still Available, Despite Crackdown

Print More

Samantha Reid

(WOMENSENEWS)–Today, a Missouri judge will sentence two dealers of a rape drug to up to 30 years in prison. The mother-and-son team Cassandra and Joshua Harvey pled guilty to selling 10 million doses to online customers of 1,4-butanediol, or BD, one of several similar date-rape drugs that cause swift and disabling intoxication that leaves victims with little memory of events.

The drugs that the Harveys were caughtdealing converts to GHB (gamma hydroxy butyrate)in the body. Their sentencing comes five years to the day after the fatal poisoning of Rockwood, Mich., teen Samantha Reid, who died on Jan. 17, 1999 after three male teens dosed her soda with GHB at a Detroit-area party.

“Samantha was in the hospital on life support, and I asked the emergency-room physician what put my daughter in this state,” Judith Clark, Reid’s mother told Women’s eNews. It was the first time Clark heard of GHB, marketed as a nutritional supplement and sleep-aid.

Reid, then 15, died the next day.

Three years earlier, Hillory Farias, a Texas teen, died after unknowingly drinking a GHB-laced soft drink.

Following her daughter’s death, Clark lobbied the then president, Bill Clinton, to sign the Hillory J. Farias and Samantha Reid Date Rape Drug Prohibition Act of 2000, classifying GHB as an illegal Schedule 1 drug like heroin.

Drugs Still Easy to Find

Despite the stricter laws, GHB and its chemical cousins, called analogs, remain cheap and readily available.

Efforts by Women’s eNews to purchase analogs led to several products on dozens of Web sites. One 4-ounce bottle of a liquid sleep-aid from Avant Labs called Tranquili-G, sells for $45.97 and purports to contain “4-pentanolide (patent pending),” a pseudonym for a GHB analog. Caleb Stone, president and chief executive officer of Oklahoma City-based Avant Labs, said he discontinued production nine months ago, although dozens of Web sites appear to still be marketing the product.

On the street, a single dose of GHB costs between $5 to $25 and is popular among club goers for its euphoric effects and among bodybuilders, who believe it stimulates growth hormones. The drug is also widely viewed as the drug of choice for sexual assailants who know that small amounts can disable a victim within 10 minutes.

“GHB is one of the drugs most often used to commit drug-facilitated sexual assault,” said Ronald Strong, supervisor of the national drug threat assessment unit at the U.S. National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Penn., a division of the Department of Justice. GHB use in sexual assaults has surpassed the widely-know date rape drug Rohypnol, known as roofies, he said.

There are no statistics on how many drug-facilitated sexual assaults take place each year. The Drug Abuse Warning Network, a surveillance program run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, counted 3,330 emergency-department mentions of GHB in 2002. That’s up from 58 in 1994, but down from a peak of 4,989 in 2000.

In March 2002, a Sioux Falls, S.D., woman reported to police that her husband used a sleep-aid containing an analog of GHB to sexually assault both her and their teen-age babysitter, according to a 2002 Drug Enforcement Administration report.

GHB analogs are common industrial solvents. A 2002 FBI report estimated the industrial consumption of the GHB analog BD, at 387,000 metric tons in 2001.

Cassandra Harvey bought 55-gallon drums of BD by claiming to manufacture a type of cleanser. The Harveys had more than 2,000 gallons of BD when they were arrested, according to the Missouri U.S. Attorney’s office.

They were arrested in September 2002, as part of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s “Operation Webslinger” crackdown on online GHB dealers, which led to the arrest of 35 people, closure of three labs and seizure of more than 25 million doses.

“Since then, the distribution of GHB and GHB analogs on the Internet appears to have decreased,” said Paula Berezansky, an intelligence analyst with the National Drug Intelligence Center. “However, the drugs are still available over the Internet.”

Barriers to Prosecuting

Drug-facilitated sexual assaults involving GHB remain notoriously hard to prosecute. “One of our problems is that the system fails these victims even when we get these victims in time,” said Trinka Porrata, a retired Los Angeles police officer and a nationally recognized expert on so-called club drugs, that is substances used to heighten sexual experiences and often for date rape.

“The first barrier is that many in law enforcement don’t have any training on it,” said Porrata. “Because her story does not make any sense, they think, ‘This broad’s crazy. She’s drunk.'” Training police officers to distinguish between GHB and alcohol is crucial, Porrata said, but “not a high priority for law enforcement.”

The drugs leave the body between 8 hours and 24 hours and a victim may be incapacitated for much of that time. She might wake up in a strange place or without her clothes, with little recollection of events.

There is no standard rape kit nationwide, but rape kits rarely contain a urine collection cup. Emergency room personnel may not be trained to take urine samples immediately if a sexual-assault victim shows signs of having been drugged. Porrata has seen evidence lost because a victim was allowed to use the bathroom while she waited for the doctor.

Critical lapses in evidence collection are often compounded by confusion as to how the drugs work. Witnesses, judges and juries may not realize that the victim’s drunken-like behavior resulted from being drugged. District attorneys may not have the budget for an expert witness to explain GHB to a jury, Porrata said.

The three teens involved in spiking Reid’s drink are serving up to 15 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. The host of the party where the poisoning took place received five years as an accessory to manslaughter and will be released on March 24, 2004.

At their sentencing hearing in 2000, Clark told the judge, “Your honor, the nation is watching today,” and asked the judge to set an example by sentencing the men to the maximum penalty.

Last March, a Michigan appeals court threw out the sentences on a technicality, arguing that the prosecution contradicted itself by claiming that the manslaughter was involuntary but the poisoning intentional. If the Michigan Supreme Court upholds the ruling, all four men will be eligible for immediate release.

Asjylyn Loder is a freelance writer in New York.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.

For more information:

National Sexual Assault Hotline:
1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673)

Project GHB. Inc–Were you drugged?:
http://www.projectghb.org/rape/whattodo.htm

The Samantha Reid Foundation:
http://www.ghbkills.com




Comments are closed.