WASHINGTON -- Since GHB, the "date rape" drug of the moment, is hard to crack down on after it hits the street, some House lawmakers believe deterring possession of it is their best weapon.
Colorless, odorless and only slightly salty, the substance is one of several "date rape" drugs that attackers have used to knock women unconscious before assaulting them. It also is a popular club drug often used to neutralize highs partiers have obtained hours earlier from other substances.
"The difficulties it presents law enforcement point up the need to severe penalties for possession," said Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, which has had several cases of women who claimed to have been immobilized by GHB and raped. If not for videotapes of the assailants, Hutchinson said, they would never have been identified because the drug had affected the victims' memories.
GHB, or gamma hydroxy butyrate, is a depressant of the central nervous system that in higher doses can produce breathing problems, seizures, comas and death. It is hard for police to detect because it can be easily concealed in water and eye-drop bottles, Orlando Police Detective Mike Stevens told the House Judiciary Committee's crime subcommittee.
It also can disappear from the blood in as little as 12 hours, Joye M. Carter, chief medical examiner of the Joseph Jachimczyk Forensic Center in Houston, told the panel.
Cases of intoxication, rape and death blamed on GHB have erupted from Los Angeles to Pennsylvania State University this week, and House members are considering several proposals to crack down on the substance.
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, for example, has introduced a bill that would make it easier for law enforcement officials to prosecute dealers who try to get around the law by altering their recipe for GHB so the chemical makeup of their product produces the desired effect but no longer fits the drug's legal definition.
Her bill also would direct the attorney general to establish education programs about the substances.
The legislation is named after Hillory J. Farias, a 17-year-old Texas girl who died in 1996 after ingesting GHB that had been slipped into her soda.