Sunday 8th September, 11pm, Channel 4
Channel 4 Dispatches and BuzzFeed News have joined forces to investigate the impact of GHB, fronted by LGBT editor Patrick Strudwick. GHB is a silent killer which is killing hundreds of gay men per year and receives little attention.
Channel 4 Dispatches, BuzzFeed News and Terrence Higgins Trust have conducted the largest ever survey of GHB users, and reveal for the first time the human cost of the epidemic scale of abuse.
Frontline professionals say G use is a public health emergency, with daily overdose admissions across the country.
- Two thirds of the 2,700 G gay men who responded, told us they’d had serious problems with the drug, such as addiction, overdosing or sexual assault.
- Half of the G users in our survey reported that they had passed out
- 93% of them said they knew other people who had done so as well.
- Over ¼ of users reporting being sexually assaulted
- 4/5 of those men said they knew someone else who’d also been assaulted on G
- Almost ½ have overdosed
- In our survey, most respondents were unaware snoring could be a critical warning sign that someone is slipping into a lethal coma, with only 1/5 saying they’d intervene if someone was snoring heavily.
- More than one in four of the G users we surveyed, said they knew of someone who had died as a result of using this drug.
Two hospitals in London monitor illegal drug use as part of an EU drug report. In the most recent available figures, G was responsible for more admissions than cocaine, heroin, cannabis or m-cat. Yet G use is still not officially monitored by the major UK drug surveys.
- G - 380 admissions
- Cocaine - 261 admissions
- Cannabis - 173 admissions
- Heroin - 183 admissions
- M-cat - 153 admissions
Dispatches submitted Freedom of Information requests to 133 NHS Trusts across England and Wales.
- 97 were unable to give us any figures on GHB
- Only four seemed to be actively looking out for this drug; Portsmouth, Blackpool, Guy’s and St Thomas’s and King’s in London.
- These four hospitals saw almost 700 cases involving G in the year to November 2018.
- If the figures from these four hospital trusts are representative of G use elsewhere; that could mean that as many as 17,000 people a year are going to hospital after taking G.
The lack of clear data on G means many hospitals remain unaware of the scale of the problem.
Dr Owen Boden-Jones, founder of the Club Drug Clinic in London, the first in the country to develop a way of treating G addiction. “The one thing that’s really distinct though, about GHB, is the small difference between the amount a user takes to get the desired effect and the amount that causes an overdose. There are some national statistics and those national statistics show that over the last decade, the number of people who die with GHB detected in their system, is around 20 per year. Now; that is probably a very large underestimate and the reason for that is when there’s a death, there’s not always the toxicology done to detect to see if GHB is there.”
When Patrick put to Andrew Harris, Senior Coroner, London Inner South that the death rate from GHB could be similar to the death rate from knife crime he responded:
Andrew Harris, Senior Coroner, London Inner South, “Yes, I accept that. I think this a wider matter for government and for the public. This needs looking at. I mean, certainly I wasn’t aware how big an issue or that—what the under-reporting or alleged under-reporting was a big issue,”
Lord Brian Paddick:
Lord Brian Paddick used to be the highest ranking out gay police officer in the Met. He lost his former partner to a G overdose.
“At the inquest, when the person who was at the venue said that they heard him snoring, so they let him sleep on the sofa, the coroner interrupted and said, ‘If somebody’s taken G and they start snoring that’s a sign that their respiratory system is shutting down. That is the time to call the ambulance.’ From talking to people, it’s extremely widespread. The whole problem is a reluctance—even amongst the families of those who’ve died from an overdose of G; not wanting to talk about it. But bearing in mind the number of deaths that there—that we do know about and how common taking G is; then, I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.
The gay community is fighting all the time in terms of rights. When I was born it was illegal to be gay; I was bullied at school because people basically knew that I was gay. And so, there is a reluctance for the gay community to admit that they have perhaps more of a drug problem than—than the heterosexual community.”
GBL sales online:
Dispatches readily found large quantities of GBL easily available to buy online via a few clicks.
Dispatches discovered large quantities of GBL available to purchase online from cleaning companies, including one which states on its website:
‘We respect the anonymity of our customers; that’s why we’re the first and only partner where you can pay anonymously with Bitcoin for your order. There’s also no login; no signing forms and all shipping details will be destroyed after successful shipping.’
Dispatches messaged another company for more information about its sales policy:
Patrick: For the UK do I need any documents to buy GBL?
Patrick: So I don’t need to prove I’m a cleaning company?
Website: We still do not ask this.
This is then followed up with a telephone call:
Patrick: I’ve just been talking to someone called Martin on the website. I just wanted to check if I can order some GBL without any documents and without any proof that I’m a cleaning company.
Patrick: Is that okay? So I can order the GBL without any…
Website: Yeah, it’s OK, it’s OK
Patrick: Do you check customers to make sure they’re a cleaning company?
Website: We don’t need it because we are not based in the UK
Patrick: Okay. Do you have a lot of orders from the UK?
Website: Yeah, we have. The main buyers are from the UK
Patrick: So I can just place my order and you won’t check that I’m a cleaning company?
The terms and conditions of this website say that you must use the GBL exclusively for cleaning and dissolving and will not re-sell it.
Stephen Morris, Chemsex and Crime Lead in the HM Prison & Probation Service revealed to Dispatches that there are groups of men seeking out Chemsex situations to coordinate serious offences. They are planning, grooming and commissioning their offences using the dark web and internet. Stephen has seen incidents where the sexual abuse has been live-streamed.
But G is not just being used to facilitate sexual violence. GHB is perhaps the most lethal drug available, because a small amount over and above a certain mark can have instant, lethal impact.
In 2016, Stephen Port was convicted of using G to drug, rape and kill four young gay men he met on Grindr. Three of them were found in a graveyard near his home. One, with a fake suicide note. Police initially dismissed concerns raised by relatives of the victims. The families are suing Scotland Yard, claiming their loved ones were discriminated against because they were gay.
The Independent Office of Police Conduct has identified systemic failings within the Met Police and has made a number of recommendations, but no officers are to be disciplined. The Metropolitan Police declined to be interviewed for this film.
Dispatches met Daniel, he used to buy G from Stephen Port after meeting him on Grindr, at the point they met Port had already killed two men.
“I got a call from Homicide and Serious Crimes Division. And when I say I call; I mean like they visited my home and I was like; ‘Right okay. What’s happened?’ Like—and then he explained to me he’d been arrested on suspicion of murder for four young gay men. So, the last thing that they said at the end of the statement, just before he was leaving, was, ‘Look, I don’t mean to scare you, and this is off the record sort of thing, but just to let you know that everyone Stephen had blocked he’d killed. But you were blocked—but obviously you’re here.’ And that—that’s when my heart sunk.”
Patrick, “He was telling you that you could have been the next victim?”
Daniel, “That’s the kind of gist he was angling it at. There was part of me that just like, well why did you just tell me that? Do—do you know what I mean? Like—it’s—I would rather have not known.”
GHB being used outside of beyond gay men:
23 year old Sophie is a regular G user, “GHB; I didn’t really hear about until I was maybe about 19, 20 and I came across it in London, with a friend. It’s used for exactly the same reason that gay people use it and I don’t know why people think that—why we’d have so many different reasons of using it, because we’re all people and we all have pretty much the same desires.”
Patrick, “So you’ve seen it used within sexual settings among straight people?”
Sophie, “I’ve—I’ve seen it in a multitude of settings. People who are in a multitude of careers. It’s a social problem. It’s the same as every other drug it’s just only coming out now, because it is something that you can hide. And it is cheap. I used to get it for 50 pence a mil; sometimes cheaper. So that was, you know, your night out for £2.50 or something. It was crazy.”
Patrick, Did you know that it can kill people?
Patrick, And you took it because…?
Sophie, I was very depressed.
Patrick, Have you ever been hospitalised?
Sophie, Once, I mixed it with ketamine and the other time was from withdrawal. It was pretty scary. I’m lucky that I have very good friends around me, because I didn’t really know what to do about it. And it’s more like about educating people, like what the signs are of, taking too much. The difference between having a good time and you know, being—yeah, on the edge.
Dispatches repeatedly asked to speak to a minister about these issues but neither the Home Office, the Department of Health nor the Ministry of Justice has been willing to talk on camera.
Sex, Drugs and Murder: Channel 4 Dispatches, Sunday 8th September, 11pm, Channel 4
Reporter/Prod: Patrick Strudwick
Dir/Prod: Katie Rice
Exec Prod: Brian Woods
Prod Co: True Vision