GHB: The drug police in New Zealand have seized 1000 pct more of since 2016

Newshub can reveal police are combating a stratospheric increase in the use of date rape drug GHB and GBL. 

Its recreational use is on the rise, and as experts tell Newshub, a tiny millilitre is all it can take to turn a party into a nightmare. 

National Drug Intelligence Bureau data obtained by Newshub shows 992 litres of gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and the more potent gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) was seized in 2019 - a 73 percent increase when compared to 2019. 

But that's only half the story.

"If we look at the end of year 2020 seizure data and then compare that with our 2016 end of year seizure data, we've actually seen a 1000 percent increase in the volumes seized in that short time period," National Drug Intelligence Bureau manager, Detective Inspector Blair MacDonald, told Newshub. 

"What that tells us is that there is a real demand for the drug within the community but also that our domestic organised crime groups are meeting that demand by importing more and more of it into New Zealand.

"The numbers are concerning."

Such concerning numbers would surely have Police Minister Poto Williams seeking urgent advice? But, apparently not. 

"I haven't raised that with police, but thank you for raising it with me," she told Newshub. 

ACT leader David Seymour quipped: "I don't know if the drug is a sedative but maybe the minister's had too much."

It's dangerous stuff. 

"Last year we saw a young child playing in a vehicle, they discovered a water bottle, had a drink, it was in fact GBL, and they were hospitalised in a very serious condition," Det Inspt MacDonald said. 

In November 2020, 400 litres of GBL worth $5 million was seized in Wellington during what was called Operation Skipjack.

"Further inquiries into that particular syndicate actually has resulted in a total of over 2000 litres being detected over a period of time," MacDonald told Newshub. 

"You'd be talking about 250,000 doses in the community."

GHB, a substance first synthesised in the 1920s and developed into an anesthetic agent in the 1960s, is a powerful, rapidly acting central nervous system depressant.

Nowadays, GHB - and its more potent twin GBL - are described by police as fantasy-type substances. They are class B drugs in New Zealand. 

The drugs are relatively cheap - one millilitre is about $5. 

Emily Huges from the NZ Drug Foundation says one of the biggest dangers is overdosing. Just a millilitre too much can put you in a coma.

"A lot of people compare the feeling of being under the influence of GHB and GBL to being really, really drunk, and they get those same sort of feelings," she told Newshub. 

"GBL is much stronger than GHB, so if you're not sure what you have, you need to dose as if it's GBL - always assume it's stronger than what you think it is."

Hospital records show 49 people were discharged this year after overdosing - but we don't know if it was taken recreationally or by mistake. 

As a date rape drug, police records show there have been 16 victims since 2016. 

Victoria University's Fiona Hutton specialises in criminology and has a warning for users of GHB and GBL. 

"It's a depressant drug, so really if you're using GHB or GBL, you shouldn't ever use anything else and you should especially not use alcohol with it," she told Newshub.

"It often comes in liquid form and it's often mixed with other liquids or water and it's heavier than the substances it's mixed with so it will fall to the bottom so if you're going to take a new dose, make sure you give the bottle a really good shake so you haven't got all the strength concentrated at the end.

"The other important thing to remember about GHB or GBL is that they have what's called accumulative effect, so re-dosing again and again may produce stronger effects than your initial dose. So, the dose is everything with GHB and GBL, so people need to be really aware of that."

Mixing alcohol with GHB or GBL isn't the only dicy cocktail. 

"We are seeing methamphetamine users increasingly use fantasy-type substances," Det Inspt MacDonald told Newshub. "It's a drug which they believe helps to regulate the comedown."

What makes these substances so elusive is we don't know how much is being consumed. 

GHB and GBL can't be traced in wastewater the way other drugs like MDMA and meth are meaning experts have to rely on anecdotal feedback and seizure data - data which is now pointing to a worrying trend in New Zealand.