Police out to crash drug-laced 'rave' parties

Tuesday, September 26, 2000

By Johnna A. Pro, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

At age 28, "Z" fondly remembers the good old days of 12 years ago when the rave scene was fresh, underground, and above all else, about the music -- the techno-pop, European slamming beat that fueled all-night dance parties around the world.

Today though, it's different.

The once-secret parties where you had to know someone who knew someone who knew someone to even get directions are over. Party announcements are just a point and click away if you know where to look on the Internet. Even the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has promoted different raves in its Weekend Magazine.

The abandoned warehouses or country fields where raves took place -- Latrobe was a hot spot -- have given way to clubs with names like Philadelphia's The Warehouse.

And because most rave venues don't serve alcohol, the age range of party goers steadily dropped over the years to include teens who managed to persuade their parents that the all-night nondrinking parties are sweetness and innocence.

They are not. While liquor may be off-limits, any kid with the money and desire can find a cornucopia of drugs, said state Attorney General Mike Fisher, whose staff is conducting regional seminars to educate local police officers about rave parties.

Federal officials say the problem is now epidemic and the latest statistics from the federal government bear that out. In 1993, for example, 196 doses of ecstasy were seized by police nationwide. In 1999, the number rose to 954,878.

Nearly 200 officers from Allegheny County and the surrounding area were at yesterday's session at the Green Tree Radisson Hotel, learning about raves and the drug culture that is associated with them.

Even veteran police officers like Forward police Chief Thomas Staley Jr., head of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, was stunned to learn about the rave parties.

"I'm sure everyone was probably as surprised as I was," said Staley.

Above all else, the rave scene both here and around the world is now drugstore central for anyone seeking a high from club drugs such as Ecstasy, Special K, GHB and LSD. They are an alphabet soup of mind-altering substances that can be hidden inside Tootsie Rolls, Skittles, Chap Stick tubes, toy rings and even Sweet Breath containers, the vial-sized liquid breath freshener.

Colorful toy necklaces and bracelets, glow sticks, sparkly crowns and glittery butterfly wings worn by rave goers are all the rage, in part because they intensify the effect of the drugs. Lollipops and baby pacifiers curb the bothersome side-effects, such as teeth grinding, while personal hand-held fans can keep a user cool.

"Ah, when I started out, raves were an underground thing," said Z, a writer turned cook and rave goer from here to Europe, who gave an interview on the condition that his real name not be used. Z, who originally is from California, went to his first rave in San Francisco when he was 16.

"Nowadays, you get 12-, 13-, 14-year-old kids in it for the wrong reasons, the drugs. When we were in it, it was to dance. It was about the music. It was to go and listen to good music."

When raves first started, the music came first and drugs were secondary. Today, though, even Z agrees that the drugs are the draw.

"It's gotten backwards. If you go to San Francisco, they're in it for the music. If you go to New York, they're in it for the music. But in these small towns -- drugs," he said.

The youngest rave crowd, known as Candy Ravers, typically are between 13 and 19, white and middle class.

"These are run-of-the-mill kids. What it's showing us is the degree to which the club drugs and alphabet drugs have entered the mainstream," Fisher said.

Next in the hierarchy are Club Kids, 19- to 25-year-olds who are in college or working their first jobs. Club Kids are older and wiser than the Candy Ravers. They sell the drugs and use them, but they aren't major dealers.

Last is the 25- to 45-year-old set, which Fisher called "Thugs," usually of Eastern European descent, who supply the Club Kids. They manufacture and distribute the drugs.

Z is no stranger to club drugs. He's sold them occasionally and used them. Today, though, even Z is careful about buying club drugs, mainly because the quality is so bad, he said.

"You don't know what you're getting," he said. Now, Z avoids raves unless he knows the organizer or the disc jockey.

"I don't want to hang out with a bunch of 13-year-olds," he said.

His drug use is recreational, he said, and he only buys when the drugs are supplied by people he knows and trusts.

But Z said he knows the extent of the rave dance and drug scene.

The police, he said, are years behind what he calls the movement -- the parties, the music, the drugs.

"The cops can always try. But they're never going to take away the movement. It's too big," he said.

Maybe so. But that won't stop them from trying, Fisher said.

At yesterday's seminar, officers who wouldn't blink at finding a bag of Tootsie Rolls in a teen's car or a few in someone's pocket, learned something new -- that even the most innocent looking candy can disguise drugs.

"Someone will come up and say, 'Are you rollin' man, are you rollin?'," said Faith Erb-Elliott, a supervisor in the attorney general's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation. "It means 'Are they selling?'"

Baseball caps with an X on them often identify dealers at raves, and if that X looks a little puffy, you can be pretty sure there's some drugs inside.

Right now, ecstasy is the most common drug. It combines the hallucinogenic effects of LSD with the stimulants of speed.

Ecstasy generally is a round, white tablet the size of aspirin, but it also can be colored or diamond-shaped. The pills may be stamped with a design such as a crown or seashell or with the Mercedes-Benz or Rolex symbol. Sold in rolls of 100, the pills cost between $6 and $10 each. Bought individually, the price can be $15 to $40 apiece.

Ecstasy, known as XTC, E, X, Adam and Eve, also is packaged in clear plastic capsules called mollies.

Special K, or ketamine, is a small animal tranquilizer that also is gaining popularity among teens and those in their early 20s. The drug is manufactured in liquid form and is shipped to veterinary clinics and hospitals.

Once stolen or purchased on the street, ketamine is converted into a white powder form that is sold in $20, $40 or $50 bags and vials. Users snort it. Special K also is known as K, Kit, Kat, Kitty Kat and Vitamin K.

GHB is gamma hydroxybutyric acid and it gained national attention in the last several years as the "date rape" drug because it can cause drowsiness, unconsciousness and a loss of sexual inhibition. GHB also is known as Cherry, Georgia, Homeboy, Liquid X, Easy Lay, Liquid E, G-juice, Grievous Bodily Harm, Scoop and Sea Water/Salty Water.

GHB is distributed and used in either powder or liquid form. It's usually clear and has the consistency of thin syrup. Liquid GHB tastes like salt water and is contained in soda and water bottles. It's consumed by the capful and in that form can cost $3 to $10.

The powder form is sold in plastic zip bags and glass vials that cost from $20 to $50.

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, traditionally is placed on blotter paper. It also is sold in three forms. The amber liquid is usually contained in Sweet Breath bottles. A drop or two also can be placed on sugar cubes, or it can come in gel tablets that can be found on colorful sheets of plastic-like material divided into 100 squares.

LSD hits can cost from $1 to $10. A sheet with 100 doses can cost between $90 and $900.

Fisher said that based on what his investigators have learned, both Pittsburgh and Cleveland are hot spots for rave activities and the accompanying drug use, so it's important to train local officers.

"The bottom line? These drugs are not harmless. They're not harmless at all," Fisher said.