PITTSFIELD — With a street name like “Special K,” the veterinary drug ketamine might sound harmless. Not so, says Dr. Jason Orr, a Pittsfield veterinarian whose animal clinic was broken into Tuesday night.
Orr said a half-dozen vials of liquid ketamine, an animal tranquilizer, were stolen, along with 1,000 diazepam pills, known by the brand name Valium. The drugs have an estimated street value of $10,000, said Orr.
If taken by humans, he said, the effects of the drugs could be fatal.
Similar break-ins have been reported in southern Maine and New Hampshire over the past several years, and three Hancock County clinics reported break-ins earlier this month. The Penobscot Veterinary Hospital in Bangor was robbed of drugs in early December.
In mid-December, Mountain View Veterinary Hospital in Trenton was burglarized of $300 in cash and several bottles of the prescription drugs phenobarbitol and ketamine. Ketamine was taken in break-ins at Schoodic Animal Hospital in Sullivan and the Maine Coast Veterinary Hospital in Blue Hill.
Dr. Alan Hill’s animal clinic in Newport also was broken into, and two bottles of ketamine taken in early December. Two Rockland girls were hospitalized Friday after overdosing on phenobarbital believed stolen during a break-in at the Rockland Animal Hospital.
Used as a field anesthetic in the Vietnam War, ketamine has grown in popularity nationwide as a recreational drug, carrying street names such as “Special K,” “Vitamin K” and “K.”
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America says the drug has become popular at “raves” — all-night dance parties frequented by young adults and known for high-energy music. The drug puts users into what is called a “K hole,” a hallucinatory, trancelike state that can be fatal.
Veterinarians use ketamine mostly on horses and cats.
Orr said other drugs were stolen at the same time. One of the bottles of Valium, he said, was mixed with another drug, that he said police had requested he not name. “If taken by humans, it could cause seizures,” said the veterinarian.
Area hospitals were alerted to be on the lookout for patients over the holiday and coming weekend who might have injected or ingested any of the drugs.
Police Chief Steve Emery said a window at Pittsfield’s Sebasticook Valley Animal Clinic was broken, a locked steel box broken open, and the drugs and $150 in cash were taken sometime Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. The break-in was discovered by employees when they opened the clinic Wednesday.
“They knew exactly what they were after,” said Orr. Ketamine has been a popular drug in other, more urban, locations for a decade, he said.
Orr came to Maine in 1989. Before that, he provided veterinary services to the police horses and dogs for the city of Philadelphia.
“The cops used to meet me and escort me to a sick animal, afraid I’d get robbed of the ketamine,” said Orr. “They told me, `They’ll kill you for that stuff, Doc.”‘
Orr said he has not had a similar problem in the eight years he has practiced in Pittsfield.