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[whitespace] Drugs dropped in drinks bring call for awareness

Los Gatos--The Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department believes people may have spiked the drinks of two female patrons at Los Gatos bars, Detective Cynthia Coahran said. Across the nation, people have been slipping drugs into the drinks of unsuspecting women to render them unconscious and increase the possibility of sexually assaulting them, said Robert Mecir, commander of the Santa Clara County Specialized Enforcement Team.

In both Los Gatos cases--one which occurred in July, the other in November--the woman became intoxicated after two or three drinks, when she normally would not have, and got sick. The next day, both women reported the incidents to the police department, which took informational reports.

Although no crime was associated with either incident, the LG-MSPD is making an effort to heighten awareness of "date-rape" drugs, including GHB, gamma hydroxybutyrate, that the department suspects was slipped into both drinks. Over the past several years, the use of mood-altering drugs, such as GHB, has become more common, and more people have reported these drugs being placed into alcoholic beverages of unsuspecting patrons in drinking establishments, according to the LG-MSPD. Although the use of GHB is not an epidemic, it is on the rise, Mecir said.

In March, the Samantha Reid and Hillory J. Farias Date-Rape Drug Prohibition Act of 2000 was passed. The act, named for two teenagers who unknowingly took GHB and died, makes it a federal crime to possess, transport or distribute GHB or its precursors. GHB was already illegal in other states and has been illegal in California since 1997, said Mecir, who arrested people for manufacturing GHB when he was a narcotics agent.

On Dec. 1, LG-MSPD officers distributed public notices about mood-altering drugs being placed in unsuspecting patrons' drinks to patrons of bars in Los Gatos. The police department has also met with bar staff members to improve their awareness, so they can look out for patrons.

Customers can also take precautionary measures against having their drinks spiked by watching their drinks at all times, which includes observing that drinks go directly from the bartender to them and never setting down drinks and coming back to them, the police department said. If someone offers to buy a customer a drink, the customer should accompany that person to the bar and watch the bartender pour the drink and then give it directly to him or her. A patron can also place a napkin over a drink and stick a straw through the napkin to hold it in place.

People who see anyone put anything into a drink should call 911 immediately, and let the unsuspecting patron know, so that the patron can stop consuming the drink, the police department said.

People can become ill or extremely intoxicated after having one or two drinks with GHB or GBL, gamma butyrolactone, that metabolizes into GHB in the body. GHB, or "liquid ecstasy," is a clear and tasteless liquid that is usually carried in Visine bottles. Both GHB and GBL, which is also a liquid, are usually used unwillingly. GHB and GBL are club drugs, or designer drugs that people usually take at raves, Mecir said. He added that people take these "New Age" drugs for a variety of reasons, from sleep to increased sexual performance to euphoria.

GHB is very addictive, and a user will develop a tolerance quickly, Mecir said. But even a user who develops a tolerance can become nauseous. Other withdrawal symptoms include seizures and psychotic episodes. Although GHB leaves the system within four to eight hours--so fast that evidence of its effects quickly disappears--it may take as many as seven days for detoxification, Mecir said.

When GHB is mixed with alcohol, there is a synergistic effect--the effects of the alcohol and drug multiply. The user either becomes violently ill or passes out right away. If the user passes out, he or she won't wake up for some time, if at all, Mecir said.
Rebecca Ray

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Web extra to the December 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro.

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