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Drug facilitates sexual assault

Ready or not, GHB is in the Duluth-Superior area, and young people are using it. The drug, gamma hydroxy butyrate (GHB), is nicknamed "Easy Lay" because a couple of drops of the clear, odorless liquid can easily be slipped into a person's drink w...

Ready or not, GHB is in the Duluth-Superior area, and young people are using it. The drug, gamma hydroxy butyrate (GHB), is nicknamed "Easy Lay" because a couple of drops of the clear, odorless liquid can easily be slipped into a person's drink without their knowledge, making them easy prey for sexual assault. GHB causes intoxication, giddiness, dizziness, confusion and amnesia. In some cases it causes loss of consciousness, seizures, coma and death.
Karole Ives, victim advocacy specialist at the Program for Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA) in Duluth, says she knows GHB is being used to rape young women in the area. "We discovered that it's going on up here, and no one's really talking about it," Ives said.
"People blame themselves saying 'I got drunk,' or 'I shouldn't have trusted that person,' or 'I shouldn't have gone to that party,' or whatever. So it's really under-reported. It's never the victim's fault if they were sexually assaulted, even if they were drinking, and certainly not if they've been drugged to make it easier to happen."
Because GHB can cause confusion, people who have unknowingly ingested the drug have no idea why they feel the way they do. One Duluth woman, who happens to volunteer at PAVSA and knows all about GHB, was herself victimized at a local bar recently. Fortunately, when she got sick her friends took her home and away from the would-be perpetrator. Even knowing about the drug, it took this woman a couple of days to realize that she had been drugged.
"It's so hard for people to figure out what happened to them," Ives said.
GHB is frequently put into alcoholic drinks because alcohol increases the effect. Besides that, in bars or at parties people frequently don't watch their drinks. But GHB can also be put in soda pop and any other kind of drink.
GHB is a big concern for local law enforcement and victims' organizations for a number of reasons. The drug can be made in any kitchen. The basic ingredients are degreasers or floor strippers mixed with drain cleaner or lye.
Recipes for it are readily available.
Another reason this drug is so scary is that individual tolerance seems to vary greatly. The same dose given to two people of the same body mass may cause very different reactions. "One can get a real pleasant high and the other can be comatosed," Ives said. "Some kids are taking it recreationally, and there are a lot of overdoses."
There have been no reported deaths in this area from GHB, but there have been 60 reported deaths in the United States so far.
It doesn't take much, and it's very easily transported. According to Ives, kids in the area have seen it in Visine bottles and thought it was actually Visine that was having this effect on people. "It's a clear, oily liquid, so even if someone sees the bottle they aren't going to think anything strange about it."
A fourth reason this drug is a concern for local law enforcement is that it is very difficult to prove. It flushes out of the system very quickly, and by the time the victim realizes what has happened, there's no trace of the drug left. And besides that, smaller towns don't have the equipment to test for it and often times don't know to test for it.
That's one of the reasons PAVSA hosted a conference Friday for medical and law enforcement professionals. The conference, entitled "Substance Facilitated Sexual Assault," provided an overview of the most common date rape drugs available these days and information about the incidence of drug facilitated sexual assault in the region. "We need to break that silence," Ives said.
There is no antidote for this drug, so Ives and PAVSA educator Candy Harshnar say public awareness has to increase. Parents need to talk with their teens about this drug and how to avoid being victimized by it. "Oh, totally," Harshnar said. "If we have adolescent daughters, we know that they are going to be vulnerable. We have a responsibility if we know about GHB to inform them about it. They can poo poo it if they want to, but I think if we're aware of those kinds of dangers we need to at least make them aware of some of the common sense measures they can utilize."
Harshnar and Ives recommend setting up a buddy system among friends. "So if you start feeling weird or acting weird, that you're aware of each other," Harshar said.
It worked for her daughter. Harshnar said her daughter was out with some friends at a Duluth bar when one of her friends was unknowingly drugged with GHB. Her daughter, who knew about the drug because Harshnar had talked to her about it, got her friend out of the bar and took her home.
"Parents do need to let their kids know that this is out there," Ives said. "It sounds sensationalized when you see it on 20/20 or Nightline, and you think 'that doesn't happen around here.' It happens. We're an easier market up here because we don't expect that kind of crime, so we're easier victims, and because we're smaller towns our law enforcement doesn't have the same kind of training or access to testing. Sometimes I think we're sitting ducks for a lot of drugs."

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