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)