Sara knew almost immediately that her body was having trouble dealing with the drug she'd just taken.
"I was way too high, way too fast," said the 18-year-old Salt Lake County woman, who asked that her last name not be used. "I was actually out within 20 minutes."The drug she took was gamma hydroxybutyric, more commonly called GHB. And although it's been around for years as a sort of health food supplement, it's one of the newest substances to hit the illegal drug scene.
Until the federal Food and Drug Administration pulled GHB off the market in 1991, it was sold in health food stores. It was marketed as a steroid alternative for body building, a sleep aid and even as a way to ease the withdrawal symptoms of alcoholism.
"The FDA basically said, `There's nothing good about this stuff' and it was pulled from the shelves," said Don Mendrala, resident agent-in-charge of the Salt Lake office of the Drug Enforcement Administration. "It is still available overseas."
In addition to recreational drug use, it's used as a "date-rape drug." The FDA said the drug can cause amnesia, make a person less inhibited and increase sexual desires, all of which make establishing the fact that a rape occurred more difficult.
It is not the same drug as Rohypnol, known as "roofies," the more common "date-rape drug." Six Utahns were arrested last week after a 15-month multi-state investigation involving Rohypnol, Ritalin and Valium. Those six people face federal charges stemming from the transportation and distribution of those drugs.
But like Rohypnol, GHB is odorless and colorless and can easily be slipped into a drink.
David Memmott, 42, Layton, is charged with rape in a case where police said he put GHB in a woman's drink at a party in Sandy. Police investigators said he bought GHB through the mail. He is awaiting trial on the charge, which could put him in prison for life if he's convicted.
It is the first case of its kind in Utah.
But GHB isn't just a "date-rape drug," Mendrala said. Just as many people, or more, use it voluntarily, and unfortunately, without much knowledge about how much to take and what the consequences can be.
"The biggest problem, I think, is that nobody knows how much of this stuff to take," Mendrala said. And in the world of drugs, many assume, "If a little is good, more must be better."
Unfortunately, police say, GHB is not difficult to obtain. It can be purchased by mail, and there are kits, somewhat like boxed cake mixes, available on the Internet that allow people to make the drug at home with little or no chemistry or cooking experience.
There is even a new book on the substance called "GHB: The Natural Mood Enhancer," which alleges that it's the pharmaceutical companies that want to outlaw GHB because they market anti-depressants and sleep aids.
In the past two years, the FDA said it has seen a resurgence in GHB's popularity and has documented its use in 27 states, including Utah.
Locally, Mendrala said there have been about a half dozen documented cases of overdoses involving GHB in the past few months, most of which come in from hospitals.
Police say it's been sold under street names like "Grievous Bodily Harm," "Georgia Home Boy," "Liquid Ecstasy," "Liquid X," "Soap," "Scoop" and "Easy Lay," among others.
For Sara, the drug was a tempting offer from a good friend. She was dancing at a downtown nightclub that has a section for minors when her friend offered her some of the drug mixed in with a little water.
Experienced with drugs, she had heard of GHB but hadn't taken it before that night.
GHB is a fast-acting central nervous system depressant. At first, one may experience euphoria and relaxation or calm. Adverse effects can occur within 15 minutes to an hour after taking it.
It intensifies feelings of intoxication and produces a sensation similar to alcohol use, although its effects are exacerbated by combining it with alcohol.
"It made me dizzy, high. . . . I felt I was (in trouble)," she said.
Sara and a friend went into the bathroom where she collapsed.
"I never made it off the bathroom floor. I stopped breathing; my heart stopped beating. It was a very close call."
So close that police and medical personnel who responded to the scene expected Sara to die after she was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. But she recovered and within a few days was released to go home.
"In some ways it's been a really hard experience. . . . But it's been good for me, and in general our scene," she said. "I know I'll never do drugs again. It's been like a serious wake-up call for us."
She said most people who use drugs like GHB are "just trying to have some fun."
"I've had my fair share of fun with them," she said. But just one of the dangers with any drug, but especially GHB, is that overdosing is fairly easy. Because the drug is somewhat new, it's hard for users to know how much is a "good time" and how much is fatal.
"It's really, really easy to take too much," she said.
Sara said she doesn't think GHB is very popular because it's difficult to buy. She knows only of one distributor locally.
But Mendrala fears that because GHB can be made at home without much difficulty it could become easier to find fairly quickly. That's what happened with methamphetamines, a drug that some law enforcement officials now call the greatest threat to public health and safety.
From 1991 to 1998, meth use and production exploded, especially in Western states. Utah was the fourth-largest producer of methamphetamines in 1996, behind only California, Missouri and Texas. California and Texas are two of five states where officials say they've seen most cases of GHB overdoses.
Methamphetamines can be made nearly anywhere with items that can be purchased at a local grocery store, just like GHB.
And while meth costs about $100 per gram, Mendrala said about $10 will buy a bottle cap full of GHB - another point health and law officials worry might increase its popularity.
GHB has never been approved by the FDA for sale as a medical product in this country. There is no federal law restricting possession of GHB. It is, however, illegal to produce or sell GHB in the United States.
A handful of states have made possessing GHB illegal, but Utah is not one of them.
For the time being, Mendrala said the DEA will gather information on GHB use and production and report its findings to Congress, which he hopes will do something about the substance's legality.
"It's in the gray area, as to what's illegal and what's not right now," Mendrala said. "We're not seeing enough of it on the street to do anything about it, and we're not sure what we would do anyway because of the legal (issues)."