Sip of Fools

GHB helps you dance 'til you drop. Dead, maybe.

Ellison was incredulous. He went back inside, tracked down the club's manager and part owner, Demetrius Bassoukos, told him there was a young man convulsing outside the club and asked Bassoukos why the club's other staff members weren't calling an ambulance. "I got a very kind of non-response, so I just went ahead and called 911 myself," Ellison remembers.

By the time Ellison got back outside, three or four of the victim's friends were clustered around him. They said his name was Corey and that he'd recently taken a lot of GHB, along with a hit of Ecstasy. "They seemed a little upset that an ambulance had been called, and they kept asking if they could get him out of there and just take him home and put him to bed," Ellison says. "The club personnel told them no, because the ambulance was already on its way."

Besides, Corey didn't look like he was ready for nighty-night time.

John Johnston
Stop the madness: Allen Ellison wants to educate club-goers to the dangers of GHB.
John Johnston
Stop the madness: Allen Ellison wants to educate club-goers to the dangers of GHB.

Details

Read a Phoenix New Times related feature story about the drug trade in Phoenix's club and rave scene, "Evil Empire."

"It took about fifteen minutes for the ambulance to get there, and during that whole time, I was helping the doorman try to keep this guy on his feet, and he was spastic and fighting us like crazy," Ellison says. "His eyes were wide and panicked. He would frequently look all frantic, not appearing to register his surroundings."

Such semi-conscious violence is often an initial symptom of a super-severe GHB overdose. A 1999 study by emergency-room doctors at San Francisco General Hospital reported, "One peculiar characteristic of acute GHB toxicity is that the subject often demonstrates extreme combativeness, despite profound CNS [central nervous system] depression."

When the ambulance arrived, Corey did not go quietly. "It took seven people, including the paramedics, about five minutes to get him on the stretcher," says Ellison. "He was thin but really strong."

The paramedics told the crowd that they were taking Corey to the emergency department at Denver Health Medical Center. Denver Health officials refuse to confirm or deny the admission of a drug-overdose victim early that morning. But whichever hospital Corey was taken to -- and Denver Health is the closest to Amsterdam -- he likely wound up with a breathing tube down his throat, perhaps after receiving a shot of a paralytic to quiet his muscles if he was still spastic.

"The only treatment [for GHB overdose victims] really is supportive," says Dr. Stephen Cantrill, associate director of emergency medicine at Denver Health. "There are no drugs to reverse the effects of GHB like there are with opiates. It's just a tincture of time. But if you intubate them and support them and monitor them, by and large, they do very well. You let the body burn off the GHB, and they eventually wake up and you extubate them and they go home, hopefully a little smarter -- though sometimes not, I'm afraid."

Cantrill says it's impossible to know precisely how many GHB overdose cases his department handles, because once the victims regain consciousness, they frequently refuse to acknowledge that they took any illegal drugs. "Some will actually confirm it once they're awake again, some won't," he says. "But when they come in with green hair from one of the clubs downtown and they're comatose, and two hours later they're awake and sitting up and talking to you, chances are very good it was a GHB ingestion."

While Corey was in the emergency room, Allen Ellison was attending what he terms an "after-after-hours party" at a private residence in the 200 block of Monaco Parkway. He says he arrived to find Bassoukos there as well. (Bassoukos did not respond to repeated phone messages and notes left for him at Amsterdam seeking comment for this story.)

"I approached Demetri and expressed my concern at the apparent hesitation of the club staff to call an ambulance," Ellison says. "My concern was that the club hesitated to call 911 for fear of repercussions to the club itself. But in talking with Demitri about it, he explained that the club has a procedure that is condoned by the police department and used by other clubs -- and that is to take a suspected GHB overdosed clubber outside into the cooler air and to closely monitor them while attempting to locate a responsible party, which basically means their friends. And then, if after fifteen minutes the clubber shows no improvement, then the responsible party is encouraged to drive them directly to the nearest hospital, although Demitri said that since most overdoses aren't fatal, many prefer to just take the overdosed clubber home and put damp cloths on their forehead."

(Detective John White, a spokesman for the Denver Police Department, says he's unaware of any such agreement between Denver police and local club owners on the treatment of GHB overdoses. "That sounds a little far-fetched to me," White says.)

After his conversation with Bassoukos, Ellison went home and wrote a two-page, single-spaced open letter titled "GHB Overdoses, Education, and Appropriate Medical Responses," which he then copied off and freely distributed at PrideFest. Ellison says he made sure to put his letter in the hands of "the representatives of every organization with a booth, several state legislators, a city councilwoman and someone from the police department."

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