Monday, February 06, 2006

The paint stripper drug that kills


An industrial solvent used to clean graffiti has become the potentially legal drug of choice for some on the gay clubbing scene

Another Saturday night, another ambulance outside a night club. But this is not the aftermath of a drunken brawl in binge-drinking Britain.

The medics are there to attend to someone overdosed on an industrial cleaner - GBL - and it's a scene which has been repeated a dozen times in one night.

Gamma butyrolactone, to give it its full name, is a more concentrated version of GHB, the "date-rape" drug made illegal in 2003 and which is equally popular in gay clubs. They have the same effect, which can be a euphoric high or can be nausea and unconsciousness.

"This is vastly more dangerous than ecstasy," says Dr Sean Cummings, who runs a private gay clinic called Freedom Health in central London.

"I personally know of two deaths this year alone and the numbers using it are much smaller than ecstasy. The penetration into the [straight clubbing] mainstream is relatively small at the moment and if it spreads, the number of deaths associated with it is going to increase."

As well as the danger of overdose, there are obvious risks to the stomach, liver and kidneys in ingesting something so toxic, he adds.

The availability of GHB has been reduced by the ban but its more potent version has stepped in to meet the demand.


Either drug, known as "G", can be bought in liquid form over the internet or manufactured at home, which means its strength can vary. The adverse symptoms can be caused by as little as a millilitre over the correct dose or by alcohol which, as another depressant, compounds the effect.

Although the number of G-related deaths is officially quite low, the number of people collapsing on dance floors isn't.

Adam Cooper of Knightlife Medical Services says his firm was called out to 16 G overdoses on one Saturday night a few weeks ago, at three gay clubs in London. Four patients needed hospital treatment.

"I can understand people taking ecstasy to get high and dance all night but I can't understand why you would go to a club and make yourself fall asleep," says Mr Cooper, who adds that he's never treated anyone for an ecstasy overdose.

A staff nurse at an intensive care unit in a central London hospital says he sees about one patient a month who is so seriously ill from G that the paramedics and A&E have transferred him to his department for artificial respiration.

Recalling the night he collapsed, banker Sergio, 33, says: "One minute I was dancing, the next I woke up in hospital and the nurse said I had been resuscitated. I got such a shock. My friend told me I had collapsed and security staff at the club were reluctant to call an ambulance.

"But another guy was monitoring my pulse and said it was dropping so my friend called an ambulance himself and I'm forever in his debt that he did. I had taken G before but that night I had drunk alcohol earlier and I think that's what made me overdose. It's a great high but never again."

GHB has a long-standing medical use as a general anaesthetic or in the treatment of insomnia. Its use as a date-rape drug has been reported across the UK for several years and the recreational use of GHB and GBL has spread beyond the gay scene and the capital.

In 2002, a girl in Bolton, then aged 25, pulled 18 of her teeth out while hallucinating on GHB at home with her boyfriend. Three years earlier, Ian Hignett, a 27-year-old from Birkenhead, died from an overdose at home with friends.

More recently, a zero-tolerance campaign has been launched by some gay night clubs in an effort to persuade customers not to indulge. On arrival, people with eye drops are sometimes asked to put a few drops in their eyes, to prove it. But there are no plans to outlaw GBL, a Home Office spokeswoman said.

Dr Cummings says G also facilitates sexual activity. "It's euphoric and disinhibiting so people can use it as an aphro-drug," he says.


The implications for sexual health mirror that of methamphetamine, or crystal, which in the UK is also largely confined to the gay clubbing scene. It is Class B but is being reviewed by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

A few years ago there were fears the drug could have the same devastating effect in Britain that it has wreaked in parts of the US and South-East Asia, where addicts suffer from psychosis, paranoia and social dysfunction.

Although use remains lower than feared, drug workers remain concerned it may become more widespread.

The rocks, which cost about £40 for a quarter-ounce, are smoked, snorted, swallowed or injected to stimulate the central nervous system and enable three-day parties or sex sessions lasting days.

One occasional user Michael, who lives in London, says: "It's the only drug I know that makes you do things that normally would be against your principles. It's like nothing can affect you when you're on it."

He says that at its peak two years ago, it destroyed the safe-sex message which had prevailed since the onset of HIV/Aids in the 1980s.

And he blames crystal for the suicide of two friends. One built a makeshift ramp in front of the window in his high-rise flat and, believing he could fly, threw himself to his death.


Blogger Kayaboy said...

Ok, so the "gay clubbing scene" has got to be the most retarded group of tweeker druggies. Industrial solvent?!? Come on now, that is just screwy.

2/06/2006 05:21:00 PM  

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