How The "Date Rape Drug" Was Found Inside A Children's Toy

The New York Times has a great article about the doctor who figured out that the “Aqua Dots” or “Bindeez” beads were full of GHB. It reads like a summary of an episode of House, M.D.:

Doctors at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, outside Sydney, first believed that the 2-year-old boy, whose name has not been released, had an inherited metabolic disorder. But when Dr. Carpenter checked urine samples the next day for the chemical markers of the disorder, he found GHB, which can render victims unconscious and even cause death through respiratory failure.

“We suspected at that time the child had been surreptitiously given” the drug by a family member or friend of the family, he said by phone from Sydney on Wednesday.

A follow-up test two days later showed that the GHB had disappeared from the boy’s body, which confirmed that the chemical had been ingested and was not occurring because of a genetic disorder. It was then that Dr. Carpenter learned that the boy had vomited beads before and after going into a shallow coma.

Dr. Carpenter obtained more of the boy’s beads and tested them in a mass spectrometer, a device that helps identify chemical compounds. “I saw a large peak of a substance I didn’t recognize,” he said.

The “peak” was an obscure industrial chemical used to prevent water-soluble glues from becoming sticky before they are needed. But when ingested, the chemical quickly breaks down to become GHB. The United States tightly restricts the chemical’s sale and places GHB in the same category as heroin.

The article then goes on to try to figure out how the dangerous chemical got into the beads in the first place. With the doctor’s help, the reporter managed to track down the Hong Kong manufacturer of the beads, but was not able to get them to comment.

Sleuthing for a Danger in Toy Beads [NYT]
(Photo:Tony Sernack for The New York Times)

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  1. Youthier says:

    I don’t understand the doctor learning the kid had been vomitting beads two days later. One would think that if their child is deathly ill, you may volunteer that information upfront.

  2. nweaver says:

    Its like an episode of House, just without the raving drug addled psychopath

  3. Beware someone putting legos in your drink ladies.

  4. workingonyourinvoice says:

    @HeyHermano: Sounds like he vomitted the beads in the hospital, not at home. Though I don’t think this makes the situation any better.. You’d think a nurse/doctor/receptionist/janitor/anybody that works in a hospital would report beads in the vomit.

  5. It does sound like an episode of House.

    @HeyHermano: The family thought they knew the cause of the illness. They wouldn’t have thought the beads relevant until after it turned out not to be the metabolic disorder that runs in their family.

    “We suspected at that time the child had been surreptitiously given” the drug by a family member or friend of the family, he said by phone from Sydney on Wednesday.

    Can you imagine if the child had been removed from the family before they realized it was from the beads he swallowed?

  6. realjen01 says:

    whenever i leave my drink at the bar, i declare my drink to be part of a “roofie-free zone”. apparently i will need to rethink that plan to include small children’s toys…

  7. HumbleNarrator says:

    Hasn’t anyone considered that the labels of the toys were clearly marked as appropriate for ‘Date Rapists’ only??

    [www.humblenarrator.com]

  8. I bet there’s gonna be a run on AquaBeads!

  9. HOP says:

    they -r6bab3y s63d 64t a3ready………….

  10. Benstein says:

    Great work by the good Doctor.

  11. mexifelio says:

    Weekend Bindeez Beeds, hooray!
    That doctor is a total buzz kill.

  12. mconfoy says:

    Glad that brain dead one running the US CPSC doesn’t need anymore money to test toys. Just keep telling yourself, 14 more months, 14 more months.

  13. Benstein says:

    @mconfoy:

    To be fair no one in Australia or Canada found this either.

  14. faust1200 says:

    For the sake of newsmanship the substance in the beads is most probably gamma-Butyrolactone a.k.a. (GBL) It converts to GHB in your bloodstream. Just thought I would mention it since nobody has as of yet.

  15. adamt says:

    these bead stories are terribly misleading in that:

    the beads have GBL NOT GHB in them.. one is a precursor to the other inside your body.

    GHB is NOT “the date rape drug”, that would be “roofies” (or however you spell them). GHB can’t be just “dropped into someone’s drink” as GHB+Alcohol= at the very least a trip to the emergency room if not a coma or heart failure. but the media doesn’t research its facts, it just sensationalizes.

  16. faust1200 says:

    Actually upon further research the substance is 1,4-butanediol a.k.a. “BDO”

  17. extracrispy says:

    Why is a 2-year-old playing with a toy that contains tiny beads?

  18. superbureaucrat says:

    Darnit! no more is the cheap Xyrem

  19. mexifelio says:

    @ EXTRACRISPY it was the only toy left in the house after all the lead recalls.

  20. marsneedsrabbits says:

    Failure on all sides (except the Aussie Doctor).
    When this story broke in the US a few days ago, I told my husband that these Bindeez looked just like Aqua Dots, which I had seen at a craft store a couple days before. Yet nothing in the initial articles mentioned Aqua Dots at all.
    But if just looking at the packaging is enough to know they are the same thing, why did it take till yesterday to recall Aqua Dots?
    The company should have also *never* been allowed to sell a product, which according to the article, they had no idea the ingredients of.
    The article states that this happened to the little Australian boy back in early October. If they claim they didn’t know where or how or by whom their toys were manufactured, so they weren’t sure if they should recall in other countries, they should not be allowed to sell in the US for that reason alone. Period. By default, you can’t promise safe toys if you have know idea how the toys were made.
    Finally, no one at the CPSC held their feet to the fire for at least a few days, enough, apparently, for kids here to suffer the same fate as kids in Australia.
    Way to go, CPSC!

  21. stanfrombrooklyn says:

    I worked monitoring Asian factories for at least a couple years. Here’s my experience.

    1. These factories will do anything to save a few pennies even if it means substituting poison for playdoh.
    2. These factories will never ever respect intellectual property, safety, copyright, trademark, or anything else that we protect here.

    American companies and retailers know this as well as anybody else. So before you blame the entire country of China, know that U.S. retailers, manufacturers, and importers know exactly what is the deal too.

  22. Indecision says:

    @HOP: G66d 16b w5th the n40ber 36c2 :)

  23. Annath says:

    Kudo’s to the good doctor. Glad he caught that.

  24. SaraAB87 says:

    I have a sample of these that I recieved from Toys R Us. They did quite a good job of covering up the fact that the toys were bindeez and not Aqua Dots when they are sold in the USA as Aqua Dots.. Apparently this is a really hot selling toy too.

  25. themanishere says:

    When are they finally going to start putting something else besides candy in my pixie dust tubes? Dang you China!!! I need the ‘Real Thing’!!

  26. cde says:

    @nweaver: No, just a now psychopathic kid taking raver drugs :D

  27. remedies says:

    needs more snark and ust.

  28. Mr. Gunn says:

    Like Faust1000 said, GBL or 1,4 butanediol, are actually fairly common industrial chemicals and have a very high LD50. You can ingest quite a bit of the stuff and come out fine, although you’ll sleep for quite a while, it’s not doing anything worse to your body than alcohol.

    Anyone who’s every tasted the stuff knows it’s the last thing to be used as a date rape drug. It takes tablespoons(grams) of the stuff to have an effect, and it’s liquid and tastes so horribly bad no fruity chick drink on the planet can cover it up. Also, there were absolutely zero cases of it being used as a date rape drug when the first stories started appearing in the media.

    Those of a more conspiracy-minded bent think the same thing happened to GHB as happened to marijuana, and for the same reasons. It’s cheap, readily available, and used widely for many legitimate purposes…