Drug GHB implicated in death at UM

Medical examiner finds substance in student's blood

October 06, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The University of Maryland junior found unconscious on his fraternity house porch Sept. 5 had the drug GHB in his system, police said last night.

A toxicology report from the state medical examiner's office concluded that GHB, a dangerous and illegal drug sometimes used as a muscle-enhancer, contributed to the death of Alexander E. Klochkoff, Prince George's police said.

Klochkoff, 20, of North Bellmore, N.Y., was found outside the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house on the campus's Fraternity Drive about 8 a.m. Sept. 5. His death unnerved a campus already anxious about a string of armed robberies, especially when, on the day of his death, police did not rule out foul play as the cause.

On Sept. 6, a preliminary autopsy by the medical examiner ruled out alcohol poisoning and foul play as possible causes. At the same time, Klochkoff's father reported that initial tests on his son at the hospital had found no traces of major illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin or Ecstasy.

Last night, Prince George's police spokeswoman Cpl. Tammy Sparkman would not say whether the police search of the SAE house had turned up any GHB, saying the case is still under investigation.

The drug, whose full name is gamma hydroxybutyrate, was declared unsafe and illegal to manufacture in 1990, and has been associated with more than 45 deaths, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Possession of GHB is not illegal under federal law, though some states have outlawed it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite increased warnings about the drug's risks, it continues to be promoted, especially on the Internet and on college campuses, where some body-builders use it for its supposed ability to release a growth hormone and enhance muscle size.

In large doses, the drug has sedative effects, which has led to its use both as a sleep aid and as a "date-rape drug," according to Project GHB, an anti-GHB group founded by families of GHB victims. The drug is also used to enhance sexual experience and to deliver the euphoric effects associated with Ecstasy, according to the group. (One of its street names is Liquid Ecstasy; it is also known as Grievous Bodily Harm and G.)

The drug can be manufactured from the related compound GBL, a solvent found in floor stripper, nail polish and glue remover, and it is generally sold as a clear liquid in small plastic bottles.

According to University of Maryland spokesman George Cathcart, a national survey of college students last year found that of 900 respondents at College Park, 15 reported having tried GHB, and two had tried it in the previous month.

"This is one of the drugs we warn people about. We devote a lot of effort to it. As far as how much it's used, we're not sure about that," he said. "We certainly don't want to downplay it -- if someone died from it, it certainly is a problem. We just don't know the extent of it on campus."

Many reports of adverse reactions to the drug involve individuals who mixed it with alcohol or other drugs, according to studies reported by the CDC. Police were investigating reports that Klochkoff had been drinking at a local bar the night before his death.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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