West Hollywood takes on drugs with Tina and Gina: Killing Us Softly on May 7

West Hollywood is sponsoring a discussion about GHB and meth and how they harm the gay community.
May 5, 2014

By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California

Meth is sometimes taken intravenously, but more often smoked or snorted.

Meth is sometimes taken intravenously, but more often smoked or snorted.

It’s fifteen years ago now that I wrote a seminal piece for Frontiers Magazine that outlined the then-burgeoning crystal meth pandemic that had taken hold of our gay culture in the wake of despair over AIDS.

That story very nearly failed to see print – my editor at the time told me it would ruin my newly-birthed journalistic career.

The problem? In a two-perspective feature, I  interspersed my own personal experiences using the drug with social scientists and civic leaders’ thoughts on the subject.

I battled for its publication and finally won out, although I had to settle for a nom de plume that sort of kept me anonymous. The story created large waves in our pond.

Jovin Raethz was a 37-year-old fitness trainer from West Hollywood who died of “an apparent drug overdose” in New York City.

Jovin Raethz was a 37-year-old fitness trainer from West Hollywood who died of “an apparent drug overdose” in New York City.

Today I write about life in West Hollywood, and part of that life is drugs just as part of my life has revolved around drugs and alcohol.

Fifteen years ago I kicked meth, but did not deal with my addiction to pretty much anything that could remove me from myself and that would provide me surcease from the emotional pain and angst I suffered.

Two years ago I went into rehab to kick alcohol, endangering my business and putting my family in a difficult position.

I still sometimes suffer from anxiety and emotional pain – who among us does not? Being bi-polar and getting the correct treatments for it, though, has made it far easier for me to begin living life as I imagine you live it.

Recently this city lost another young man to a drug overdose. Jovin Raethz was a 37-year-old fitness trainer from West Hollywood who died of “an apparent drug overdose” in New York City and was discovered just four hours after the drug overdose death of wealthy Manhattan hotel heir Charlie Denihan. His death has also been ascribed to GHB.

Transferring from one drug to another - shown here is crystal meth - fails to solve the underlying problems of addiction.

Transferring from one drug to another – shown here is crystal meth – fails to solve the underlying problems of addiction.

Fifteen years later and I see people still haven’t gotten the memo. Take drugs and take your life in your (very unsteady) hands.

The party drug, GHB, has come under increasing scrutiny lately as people become addicted to it and, when mixing it with alcohol or ketamine (K) sometimes suffer overdoses leading to death.

The use of GHB has grown recently due to increased use in the body building community of gay men. Already used in conjunction with meth to reduce jitters, the drug insinuated itself into the body builder steroid user community because it is a muscle relaxer.

According to Center for Substance Abuse Research, “GHB was synthesized and introduced into medicine in 1960 and in 1963 discovered as a naturally occurring chemical in the human brain.

GHB is a colorless, tasteless liquid.

GHB is a colorless, tasteless liquid.

“In the 1970s, GHB was recommended for the treatment of narcolepsy, though it was also found to be an ineffective and unpopular form of treatment primarily due to its euphoric side effects.

“Use began to intensify in the 1980’s when it was marketed as a fat burner and muscle developer.

“However, in 1990, based on more than 30 reports of GHB-linked illness, the FDA declared the chemical unsafe and ordered it to be removed from store’s shelves, thus limiting a user’s ability to purchase the product.

In 2000 the federal government made GHB a Schedule 1 drug akin to heroin, cocaine and marijuana.

From Mesa, AZ’s Project GHB we learned that the “majority of GHB addicts who have come to Project GHB for help have been bodybuilders or athletes of some degree, from casual gym goers to entertainment wrestlers and professional players in a variety of sports.  GHB abuse is closely linked to steroid use though it remains the sports world’s dark secret.

Body builders and fitness trainers seem to use the drug for its muscle relaxing properties, but regular low-dose use can lead to problems.

Body builders and fitness trainers seem to use the drug for its muscle relaxing properties, but regular low-dose use can lead to problems.

“Partygoers who take it occasionally or just on weekends are less likely to become addicted but some in the party/club arena do become addicted.

“We’ve heard from a number of rave or club DJs, for example, who lived the lifestyle and got hooked on G,” said Kyle Hagman.

Still, the stigma lurking behind admissions that we use drugs – any sort of drugs including medical marijuana, has kept the issue from being discussed rationally.

In the case of Mr. Raethz, relatives have battled with commenters on a local web site, with the family accusing the publication of insensitivity and speculation about Mr. Raethz’s death and the commenters hitting back on that issue.

Jovin Raethz was a 37-year-old fitness trainer from West Hollywood who died of “an apparent drug overdose” in New York City.

Jovin Raethz was a 37-year-old fitness trainer from West Hollywood who died of “an apparent drug overdose” in New York City.

The family defense was “He is no addict,” and that “God’s will was done,” although must public health doctors will say that we can all fall prey to occasional drug use and we are only helping God along with use of substances – especially mixed use.

Even the news of deaths from GHB and/or meth do not prevent gay men from indulging.

Last quarter’s public safety report from the Sheriff’s department said that GHB, heroin, and cocaine busts were up almost 30 percent over the year before.

Arrests for possession with intent to sell better than doubled to eight percent from three percent  the year before.

Also noting  a major increase in arrests for possession of methamphetamine, known as “tina” or “crystal,” Sheriffs warned that the 13 percent increase in arrests for the drug were unsustainable.

From Narconon, we get this list of FAQs:

Psychologists caution against substance abusers relying on only one form of treatment to recover.

Psychologists caution against substance abusers relying on only one form of treatment to recover.

How Are Club Drugs Abused?

  • GHB and Rohypnol are available in odorless, colorless, and tasteless forms that are frequently combined with alcohol and other beverages. Both drugs have been used to commit sexual assaults (also known as “date rape,” “drug rape,” “acquaintance rape,” or “drug-assisted” assault) due to their ability to sedate and incapacitate unsuspecting victims, preventing them from resisting sexual assault.
  • GHB is usually ingested orally, either in liquid or powder form, while Rohypnol is typically taken orally in pill form. Recent reports, however, have shown that Rohypnol is being ground up and snorted.
  • Both GHB and Rohypnol are also abused for their intoxicating effects, similar to other CNS depressants.
  • GHB also has anabolic effects (it stimulates protein synthesis) and has been used by bodybuilders to aid in fat reduction and muscle building.

In the normal communication process, dopamine is released by a neuron into the synapse, where it can bind to dopamine receptors on neighboring neurons. Courtesy NIDA.

In the normal communication process, dopamine is released by a neuron into the synapse, where it can bind to dopamine receptors on neighboring neurons. Courtesy NIDA.

How Do Club Drugs Affect the Brain?

  • GHB acts on at least two sites in the brain: the GABAB receptor and a specific GHB binding site. At high doses, GHB’s sedative effects may result in sleep, coma, or death.
  • Rohypnol, like other benzodiazepines, acts at the GABAA receptor. It can produce anterograde amnesia, in which individuals may not remember events they experienced while under the influence of the drug.
  • Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic, so called because it distorts perceptions of sight and sound and produces feelings of detachment from the environment and self. Ketamine acts on a type of glutamate receptor (NMDA receptor) to produce its effects, which are similar to those of the drug PCP. Low-dose intoxication results in impaired attention, learning ability, and memory. At higher doses, ketamine can cause dreamlike states and hallucinations; and at higher doses still, ketamine can cause delirium and amnesia.

depressedaAddictive Potential

  • Repeated use of GHB may lead to withdrawal effects, including insomnia, anxiety, tremors, and sweating. Severe withdrawal reactions have been reported among patients presenting from an overdose of GHB or related compounds, especially if other drugs or alcohol are involved.
  • Like other benzodiazepines, chronic use of Rohypnol can produce tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction.
  • There have been reports of people binging on ketamine, a behavior that is similar to that seen in some cocaine- or amphetamine-dependent individuals. Ketamine users can develop signs of tolerance and cravings for the drug.
Mental illness, especially undiagnosed and untreated, lies behind many of society's ills, not only guns and substance abuse.

Mental illness, especially undiagnosed and untreated, lies behind many of society’s ills, not only guns and substance abuse.

What Other Adverse Effects Do Club Drugs Have on Health?

Uncertainties about the sources, chemicals, and possible contaminants used to manufacture many club drugs make it extremely difficult to determine toxicity and associated medical consequences.

Nonetheless, we do know that:

  • Coma and seizure can occur following use of GHB. Combined use with other drugs such as alcohol can result in nausea and breathing difficulties. GHB and two of its precursors, gamma butyrolactone (GBL) and 1,4 butanediol (BD), have been involved in poisonings, overdoses, date rapes, and deaths.
  • Rohypnol may be lethal when mixed with alcohol and/or other CNS depressants.
  • Ketamine, in high doses, can cause impaired motor function, high blood pressure, and potentially fatal respiratory problems.
Club drugs include ecstasy, GHB, cocaine and others.

Club drugs include ecstasy, GHB, cocaine and others.

What Treatment Options Exist?

There is very little information available in the scientific literature about treatment for persons who abuse or are dependent upon club drugs.

  • There are no GHB detection tests for use in emergency rooms, and as many clinicians are unfamiliar with the drug, many GHB incidents likely go undetected. According to case reports, however, patients who abuse GHB appear to present both a mixed picture of severe problems upon admission and a good response to treatment, which often involves residential services.
  • Treatment for Rohypnol follows accepted protocols for any benzodiazepine, which may consist of a 3- to 5-day inpatient detoxification program with 24-hour intensive medical monitoring and management of withdrawal symptoms, since withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be life-threatening.
  • Patients with a ketamine overdose are managed through supportive care for acute symptoms, with special attention to cardiac and respiratory functions.

 West Hollywood is sponsoring a discussion about GHB and meth and how they harm the gay community.

West Hollywood is sponsoring a discussion about GHB and meth and how they harm the gay community.