A rash of veterinary office burglaries in Howard County may be linked to the growing popularity of street use of ketamine, a drug commonly used to anesthetize animals.
Howard County police are investigating five ketamine thefts from Columbia Animal Hospital on Hickory Ridge Road since March.
"The one consistency in every case was ketamine," said county police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. Cash, morphine and other drugs were stolen during some of the burglaries, she said.
Called "Special K" or "K" when used illegally, often at dance clubs or raves, ketamine belongs to the disassociative anesthetics class of drugs, which induce separation of perception and sensation.
Sgt. Mark Joyce, who supervises the street drug section of the Howard County police narcotics division, said the drug is emerging in Howard and in the region.
"It runs in the same circles as LSD and Ecstasy, all of the party drugs that are making their way into the mainstream," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Center for Substance Abuse Research in Maryland said ketamine has not caught on as quickly and powerfully in Maryland as Ecstasy did.
"We saw a burst of ketamine use about a year ago, but that's been about the extent," said Erin Artigiani, coordinator of the center's Drug Early Warning System.
According to the Web site www.dancesafe.org, ketamine is usually a liquid that comes in small pharmaceutical vials and is cooked into a white powder for snorting. At lower doses, it induces a mild, dreamy feeling similar to that induced by nitrous oxide (laughing gas), the site says.
Users snort 20 milligrams of the product every five to 10 minutes, about 200 milligrams in all - until the desired effect is reached, said Cathy Gallagher, diversion group supervisor for the Baltimore division of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
High doses of the drug can cause users to feel disassociated from their bodies, which is known as entering a "K-hole," officials said. It has been compared with a near-death experience, with sensations of rising above one's body.
Such sensations, Joyce said, have helped keep the drug from exploding in popularity the way Ecstasy has.
"A lot of the younger crowd stays away from it because they don't like the way it makes them feel," he said. He said people often describe their experience on the drug as a "dreamlike state where you look down and see yourself."
The drug was originally used as a human anesthetic during the Vietnam War and is still used in veterinary medicine and occasionally in cases involving children or patients with poor health.
The drug is marketed under the brand names Ketalar and Ketaset. It was first reported on the Maryland drug scene in 1993, Gallagher said.
On Aug. 12, 1999, the drug was placed on the federal Schedule III of addictive, non-narcotic drugs normally available for medical use. Maryland is not one of the 16 states that has placed the drug on its state schedule.