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Project GHB -- Turns Out, Not At All Like Project Runway

Former Mr. America, Dallas' Mike Scarella, died of GHB use four years ago.
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The 2007 International GHB and Chemical Drug Conference will take place in Arlington next week. But Trinka Porrata, organizer of the event and president of Project GHB, says it appears that attendance by law enforcement and emergency medical personnel will be much lower than for previous conferences.

"I do have to say I'm disappointed at attendance registration so far," Porrata says via e-mail. "We have the best collection of speakers you will ever find at a conference, but it has been tough getting registrations. Budget issues mostly, but I guess having to reset the date hurt our efforts to promote it." Originally slated for December, the conference is now taking place at the Arlington Wyndham Hotel March 23-25.

Porrata speculates that prosecutors, police and EMTS may feel that GHB is no longer a problem, thanks to stringent legal penalties for those caught or distributing the drug. But gamma hydroxyl butyrate is still used by predators as a rape drug. It's also taken voluntarily by people -- most often bodybuilders -- who can become addicted to it. "We continue to get GHB addiction cases coming in from Texas, especially Dallas," says Porrata. "They say GHB is READILY available there."

The conference will feature forensic toxicologists, poison control experts and doctors familiar with the drug's manifestations, which can be weird to say the least. "Kenny G," a former supplier and GHB user who asked to be identified only by his street name, says that he had been driving under the influence of the drug when he was stopped by Dallas police officers.

"I started barking like a dog, like a person with Tourettes syndrome does," Kenny G says. "It went on for 10 minutes."

But by the time police officers had gotten him to the police station and gave him a tongue-twister to test his impairment, Kenny G could repeat it with no problem, because GHB clears the body very quickly. Police had to release him because he had no symptoms of alcohol or drug use.

Kenny G says he spent years in Dallas dealing GHB, steroids and other designer drugs at places like the Starck Club, Go Lounge and other former hot spots. But Kenny G got out of the business after his good friend Mike Scarcella, a bodybuilder who earned the titles of Mr. America and Mr. USA, died on August 25, 2003, during GHB withdrawal while hospitalized after being attacked by thugs. Mark Donald told his tale in the paper version of Unfair Park three years ago.

Kenny G spent two years in prison and now lives out of state. "There's a lot of misconceptions about GHB; a lot of education needs to happen," says Kenny G. "I had to leave Dallas because of G, because of making it and selling it. To keep from ending up in the shape Mike ended up in. Dead, in other words."

Porrata is a former Los Angeles police officer who started Project GHB after seeing so many users on the street. She's trying to raise awareness among "first responders" and medical personnel that some of the strange behavior they see may be GHB or another club drug.

"I'm very disappointed that rape counselors, medical personnel and detectives aren't coming in droves re the drug rape stuff and disappointed that we don't have more counselors, jail medical personnel, corrections folks, etc." Porrata e-mails. "These guys can and have died in treatment facilities and jails by withdrawing from GHB without proper medical care, such as Mike Scarcella (we'll have a little display about him)."

Other issues will include drug rape (it will be presented by two forensic nurses), drugged-driving issues and two presentations on steroid use, one by The Taylor Hooton Foundation. A Plano teenager, Hooton took his own life after abuse of anabolic steroids.

"Texas is number three in Project GHB statistics [regarding] GHB deaths and addiction cases," Porrata writes. "Dr. Deborah Zvosec will be presenting a case review of more than 226 of these deaths, including some from Texas. This is a phenomenal effort as NO ONE has come close to even compiling more than a handful of cases. She has done an excellent review of the details of deaths in terms of cause of death...It disproves two myths about GHB: 1--You can't die from GHB alone, only if you mix it with other drugs (more than 1/3 were from GHB only) 2--Just let the GHB overdose victim "sleep it off" (many of those who died would likely be alive if only someone had called 911). She details those who had no idea what was wrong and left their friends to die and those who KNEW it was a GHB OD and STILL left them to die."

Presentations on other drugs include an MDMA (Ecstasy) trafficking case, prescription drug abuse, and of course the current scourge of methamphetamine. "GHB is found more and more often at meth labs," writes Porrata, either as a drug to come down from meth or as a party drug to mix with meth."

Before Scarcella died, says Kenny G., his friend wanted to work with Project GHB to reach other addicts. Kenny G says he's getting involved with the group in memory of his friend.

"After everything, I feel I want to do something with Project GHB," says Kenny G. "I talked to a guy making the documentary film on GHB."

The biggest misconception is that GHB has disappeared from the designer drug scene. "If you are in the in-crowd, it's still easy to get G," Kenny G says. "It's all in who you know. I think people who are addicted are afraid to get help because the medical system doesn't really know how to treat them." --Glenna Whitley

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