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FILLMORE : ‘Ecstasy’ Blamed for Unconscious State

Police have identified a substance that left three people unconscious and close to death on a Fillmore sidewalk last month as a legal yet potentially dangerous drug known as “Cherry Meth.”

All three victims recovered from the overdose after being hospitalized, although one stopped breathing twice while en route to the hospital, police said.

Narcotics detectives arrested one of the three, Patrick Askren Jr, 26, of Fillmore, on suspicion of furnishing a substance in lieu of a controlled substance.

The felony charge is used when someone sells or gives a potentially dangerous substance--even if it’s legal--to another person on the pretense that it is a drug, said Lt. Craig Husband, who heads up the Ventura County Sheriff’s Narcotics Unit. In this case, the drug was purportedly “Ecstasy,” a popular amphetamine.

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As a result of the investigation, detectives are looking into two other recent Fillmore cases where police arrested people exhibiting bizarre behavior, Husband said. Nevertheless, he downplays the possibility that the county is facing a new drug wave involving a legal substance.

“I believe this isn’t the start of a new trend,” Husband said. “I believe this is an isolated incident.”

So unknown is the drug to law enforcement in Ventura County that authorities spent three weeks unsuccessfully trying to identify it from urine and blood samples drawn from those involved in the Fillmore incident. A San Francisco laboratory eventually identified the substance.

Cherry Meth, also known on the street as liquid ecstasy, is more properly known by the initials GHB for its chemical name. It has grown in popularity since incorrect rumors circulated that actor River Phoenix died after ingesting it in 1993, police said.

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Over-the-counter sale of the drug, which was popular among bodybuilders in the late 1980s and is used today to treat narcolepsy, was banned in 1991 by the Food and Drug Administration after research found that it affected the central nervous system. At least two states have made GHB possession a crime, but it remains legal in California.

Authorities haven’t linked GHB to any deaths by itself, although in combination with other drugs it can be lethal.


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