Rave to rape, a drug's journey

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  • Published 29.11.09

New Delhi, Nov. 28: On the streets it’s known as K, and it’s increasingly being used as a weapon of rape.

Once ketamine hydrochloride was used in rave parties where rich youths sought ever newer ways of getting “high”. Now it is being used in offices, guesthouses and even middle-class homes to immobilise unsuspecting young women.

Mixed with the victims’ food or drink, the “date rape drug” can throw her into a haze, detached from all bodily sensations. It comes cheap at Rs 30 a gram and passes through the body quickly, making later detection difficult.

The police say the past two years have seen a spurt in seizures of ketamine, the drug most widely used by Indian rapists and known on the streets as Kid Rock, Ket Kat, Make-Her-Mine or, simply, K.

While gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Ecstasy and Rohypnol too are considered date rape drugs — some of them sold under the names Easy Lay, Scoop Her, or Forget It — ketamine is “popular” because it is legal and cheap.

In its official avatar, ketamine is a sedative and local anaesthetic, used both in humans and animals, and is exported to countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong. It can be taken in powder, liquid or tablet form and is often mixed with other drugs or alcohol.

When the alleged rape of a 22-year-old woman by two men in a Delhi guesthouse was reported today, police immediately suspected the use of ketamine. Tests are being done.

Till a few years ago, the criminal use of ketamine was confined mainly to gangs that spiked train and bus passengers’ drinks and robbed them. But now, officials say, college students and young working people are using it for rape.

The drug is manufactured under licence in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Officials say a large amount of ketamine, packaged to be shipped abroad as medicine, is smuggled out and sold on the streets, or illegally exported as a recreational drug.

Since the drug is not banned, officials make seizures if they find a bulk carrier has no documents, or, say, that the drug is being smuggled inside holes cut in books or in soap bars or hollows of suitcases. Sometimes, it is camouflaged as common Indian masala.

In 2007-08, the directorate of revenue intelligence (DRI) alone seized 247kg of ketamine; in 2008-09, the combined nation-wide seizure of the drug was 1,173kg.

Officials fear the use of ketamine for rape could be wider than the seizures suggest since the drug is not banned in India. Plans to ban its use — except for medicinal purposes — have made no progress.

“People should avoid drinking with strangers, never leave their drink unattended, and have a trusted driver. Date rape drugs leave little evidence, that’s why there is no definitive record of how many women fall prey to them,” an officer said.