Return to Center: GHB contributes to deaths

Alexander Klochkoff, a sophomore at the University of Maryland College Park, was found outside his Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house facedown with no pulse in a beanbag chair Sept. 5. Police immediately ruled out foul pay and alcohol poisoning in the 20-year-old’s death, but toxicology tests now show that Klochkoff’s death may have been caused by an overdose of gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB.

GHB is familiar to many in the club and rave scenes as a cheap high with effects similar to alcohol use. But dosages of the drug can be tricky to calculate, especially when it is mixed with alcohol, as is common. Taking too much can result in deep sedation, difficulty breathing, seizures, coma and death. Going by the names Liquid Ecstacy, Liquid G, Georgia Home Boy and others, GHB costs between $3 and $5 a dose. The drug is a colorless, odorless liquid or a fine white powder that is undetectable when mixed in a drink, and it is often used in date rapes to incapacitate women. The effects of GHB begin almost immediately and continue for one to three hours.

Most students are not aware of the dangers of GHB or other club drugs like ecstasy or ketamine, and many who are aware choose to ignore the very real hazards of the drugs in favor of the high they give the user. But making that choice or taking drugs without knowing their effects can be fatal, as Klochkoff’s death illustrates.

As a result of a 2000 federal anti-date rape law, GHB is classified as a Schedule I drug in the same category as cocaine and heroine. The penalties for possession, use and distribution of GHB are stiff, as they should be. In March 2000, three men were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for manslaughter for their part in slipping GHB into a girl’s drink at a party. She unknowingly ingested the drug and died.

But tracking illegal drug use is never easy. Still, some indicators allow researchers to infer an alarming increase in the use of GHB. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., in 1992, hospitals reported 20 GHB medical emergencies. In 1998, the number reached 790. In 1999, 2,960 people visited hospitals as a result of GHB use. Fully 95 percent of patients are between 18 and 34 years old. Those statistics indicate an explosive increase in use of the drug among young people.

These days it is fashionable to advocate the deregulation or even legalization of drugs that have been outlawed. And for some compounds, namely marijuana, that debate may be appropriate. But there are substances that are so harmful they should not be available no matter their euphoric effects.

Students must realize they are not invincible. One dose of a drug like GHB may not be lethal but it could be. GHB, ecstasy, ketamine and other “club drugs” are dangerous, and research shows their harmful effects. A cheap high is not worth your life.
-The writer, a senior majoring in history, is Hatchet opinions editor.

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