Ventura passes bill to make date-rape drug ‘GHB’ illegal

Amy Olson

Gov. Jesse Ventura signed a bill into law Thursday making it illegal to possess the so-called “date rape” drug GHB without a prescription.
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, is known as a date-rape drug because it is often used on sexual assault victims. It is also gaining popularity as a recreational drug.
The odorless, clear liquid is a depressant and can cause drowsiness, increased heart rate and slow respiration, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Its more severe side effects include seizures, coma, unconsciousness and even death.
In April, an Inver Grove Heights man died from an overdose of GHB. Nationwide, there have been 3,500 overdoses recorded by the Drug Enforcement Administration; 32 deaths have been linked to the drug since 1995.
Since the drug is not controlled by the federal government, the DEA does not keep statistics on how often the substance is used in sexual assaults, said Jim Portner, supervisor for the administration’s Minneapolis office.
Because GHB can cause victims to lose consciousness, they are often unaware of the assault until the side effects wear off, said Sgt. Bernie Martinson, who works in the Sex Crimes Unit at the Minneapolis Police Department.
Like Rohypnol, GHB is eliminated by the body quickly, making it difficult to detect in a victim’s bloodstream, Martinson said. Rohypnol is a valium-like sedative drug that has also been used in acquaintance rape. The Food and Drug Administration banned Rohypnol in the United States.
University Police Sgt. Jo Anne Benson said GHB first came to her attention five or six years ago, but she couldn’t recall any cases successfully prosecuted that involved the drug. Martinson said he could recall only two cases involving either drug.
Benson said alcohol is the most common drug used in acquaintance rape. However, both GHB and Rohypnol can dissolve in alcohol and other liquids, making bar patrons and party-goers easy targets. Some law enforcement officials recommend buying bar drinks only in bottles because they are harder to tamper with than wide-mouth glasses.
The Program Against Sexual Violence recommends drinking responsibly and using a buddy system as ways to prevent sexual assault.
GHB has legitimate uses; researchers at the Minnetonka company Orphan Medical, have approval from the FDA to run clinical trials on the drug, which is being tested to treat narcolepsy.
But recreational use is on the rise.
“It’s not a big problem in Minnesota yet. The drug is working its way north like methamphetamine has worked its way north,” said Rep. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, who sponsored the bill in the state House of Representatives.
Law enforcement officers have found only small quantities of the substance in Minnesota drug investigations, Portner said. It is a greater problem in bigger metropolitan areas like Miami, Chicago and New York.