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Rave drug a worry for vets

Ketamine’s vogue makes vet clinics a target of dealers

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Ecstasy and GHB have been known for some time as the club drugs of choice in the underground rave scene. But narcotics agents say another drug is making a fast rise in popularity, and law enforcement officers and veterinarians are concerned.

Ketamine, also known as "Special K" or "Vitamin K," is commonly used in animal clinics as an anesthetic for domestic and farm animals. But it's also being smoked, snorted, injected and ingested at underground rave parties.

The increase in ketamine's popularity has vet clinics across the nation worried about becoming the targets of drug dealers and users.

A man was arrested in Sandy June 17 after stealing ketamine and other drugs from the Alta Veterinary Clinic, 700 E. 8052 South.

The armed man threatened employees of the clinic and demanded drugs before firing several rounds into a medicine cabinet. The man grabbed what police described as large quantities of drugs and left. He was tracked down and arrested by Sandy and Midvale police.

The White Pine Veterinary Clinic in Park City had ketamine stolen from its facility several weeks ago.

In February, ketamine was stolen from the Ribbonwood Animal Hospital in Orem after thieves crawled through an open window.

Salt Lake County sheriff's detectives have investigated at least three cases of stolen ketamine in their jurisdiction in the past year, Sgt. Darren Carr said.

Similar incidents of vet clinic robberies are being reported across the nation.

In Arvada, Colo., thieves looking for ketamine broke into two animal clinics in one night. In Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina, thieves posing as vet clinic workers sought to "borrow" vials of ketamine from other clinics.

"The whole veterinarian community is scared. I'm a prisoner in my own office," said Philadelphia veterinarian Raj Khare, 66, who was robbed in June.

"It's been abused for a number of years, but with the club scene, it's becoming more popular," said Jude McKenna, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Philadelphia.

In Utah, ketamine "is not considered a significant threat at this time," DEA Resident Agent-In-Charge Barry Jamison said.

But Salt Lake County narcotics agents said they've been monitoring the drug's growth in popularity, especially in the rave community, for more than a year.

In addition to being used on animals, ketamine is used by doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center, hospital pharmacist Karla Snow said. It is used with other drugs, such as Versed, as a way to sedate young children or help relieve some of their anxieties before a procedure such as bone-marrow aspiration or radiation treatment, she said.

But by the time patients reach their teens, the drug is not used much. The drug has more side effects in adults than it does in children, said Barbara Crouch, director of the Utah Poison Control Center.

Ketamine can increase a person's blood pressure and heart rate, Crouch said. The drug can result in permanent brain damage. It can also cause convulsions — especially when taken in large doses — and vomiting, when mixed with alcohol.

Like GHB, ketamine is also known as a date-rape drug. It can induce a comalike state in humans. It is generally found in vet clinics in a liquid form and is boiled by drug users into a powder. Similar to PCP, ketamine has a hallucinogenic effect sought by drug users.

Hallucinating is one of ketamine's most dangerous side effects, Crouch said. It causes irrational behavior in people and gives them a sense of invulnerability, she said. That feeling can make people do stupid things, such as stand in front of a train, Crouch said.

Some juveniles have reported tripping out on ketamine and seeing snakes climb walls, Snow said. Others simply get delirious and start yelling and screaming and don't even realize they're doing it, she said.

Ketamine is extremely addictive, said Porter Law, who used to be in charge of purchasing drugs for Cottonwood Animal Hospital. "I don't know why anyone would want to ingest it intentionally."

Although the popularity of ketamine has surged over the past few years, it's not the first time it has been considered a fad drug. In 1991, the Deseret News reported ketamine was becoming the trendy drug of the New York nightclub scene.

Last year, Utah lawmakers approved HB77, adding both ketamine and GHB to the controlled-substance list. That means only veterinarians and medical personnel are allowed to legally possess ketamine.

Possession of ketamine is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

Contributing: The Associated Press

E-MAIL: preavy@desnews.com