It will be weeks before investigators might know the drug that 16-year-old Dominic Stolfi allegedly ingested before driving the wrong way on K-254 and colliding with another car early last Sunday, Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet says.
According to Herzet, the teen had told a deputy about three hours before the collision, which killed Stolfi and two other people, that he had taken LSD.
A federal drug official says he wouldn’t be surprised if the substance turns out to be something similar to but even more dangerous than LSD – known as N-Bom, a reference to its chemical name.
The substance that deputies seized from a Benton-area house where Stolfi was visiting, several hours before the collision, has been sent for analysis to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Herzet said. The Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the source of the substance, Herzet said, adding without elaboration, “We have a pretty good idea of where the drugs came from.”
When deputies responded early last Sunday to a report of a disturbance at the house, Stolfi and another 16-year-old said they had taken LSD, a powerful hallucinogenic drug often associated 1960s counter-culture.
But James Shroba, special agent in charge with the St. Louis division of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said Friday that LSD rarely shows up, so he wonders if the drug involved in the Butler County case is actually N-Bom. It is a more prevalent drug, with effects similar to LSD, and in recent years N-Bom has been associated with deaths across the nation.
As powerful as LSD is, N-Bom is even more potent and more dangerous, Shroba said.
Tim Rohrig, director of the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Center, said LSD hasn’t shown up in its drug-testing or toxicology labs in at least 10 years. But two forms of N-Bom – known as 25B and 25C – popped up in a handful of drug cases in the county after the first of the year, Rohrig said.
He knows of no local deaths associated from N-Bom so far. According to the DEA, N-Bom drugs nationally have been linked to at least 19 deaths of people ages 15 to 29 between March 2012 and August 2013.
Both LSD and the N-Bom drugs can cause hallucinations that lead to extremely risky behavior. But the N-Bom drugs are especially dangerous because they can also be toxic, with symptoms including tremendous spikes in blood pressure and heart rate, Rohrig said.
The regional center conducted an autopsy on Stolfi, and testing will be done to determine what substances might have been in his system, Rohrig said. The separate KBI analysis of the substance seized from the residence will help the center know what to look for in its testing, Rohrig said.
Deputies seized blotter paper from the house, Herzet has said. Drugs like LSD and N-Bom are often deposited on blotter paper, and the paper is placed on a person’s tongue, where it is absorbed into the system. The blotter paper, Rohrig said, is obviously marketed toward young people, with cartoon characters like Scooby-Doo printed on the paper.
N-Bom often gets marketed as “legal LSD,” Rohrig said. But it is illegal on the federal level, the DEA’s Shroba said.
Shroba gave some background on LSD and N-Bom: The popularity of LSD waned quickly after the 1960s because users found that its effects were so unpredictable. The DEA’s fact sheet on LSD said users can experience “extreme changes in mood. While hallucinating, the user may suffer impaired depth and time perception accompanied by distorted perception of the shape and size of objects, movements, colors, sound, touch and the user’s own body language.”
“The ability to make sound judgments and see common dangers is impaired, making the user susceptible to personal injury.” Users can suffer “acute anxiety and depression” after an LSD trip, and “flashbacks have been reported days, and even months, after taking the last dose.”
LSD’s effects on the body, according to the DEA fact sheet, can include dilated pupils, higher body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating and sleeplessness. Deputies found Stolfi in his underwear and with a blanket around his upper body, but he seemed relatively calm and they released him to his father, Herzet has said. Stolfi’s father, Eric Stolfi, has said that after he took his son home, the teen appeared to be asleep when he checked on him at 5 a.m., about an hour before the collision. Although Eric Stolfi hid the keys, he said, his son managed to take off in an SUV. The family lives close to the highway. The crash occurred just over the Butler County line into Sedgwick County, only about a half mile from where the SUV entered, going west in the eastbound lanes. The two Potwin women in the other, oncoming car, Lisa Hardy, 27, and Nancy Ross, 52, also died at the scene.
Because of the relative obscurity of LSD now, Shroba said, he would be surprised if it was used in the local case. Even teenagers now seem to shy away from LSD because of its unpredictability, he said. “It’s never been a very fashionable drug.”
Few LSD labs exist, but when they operate, clandestinely, they are usually large and sophisticated and mainly on the West Coast, he said. Unlike with other illegal drug trafficking, authorities think there is virtually no involvement in LSD from traffickers in Mexico. “We make enough of it here,” Shroba said.
Kansas did show up on the LSD map, however. In 2000, it made headlines when authorities took down an LSD lab in Wamego.
LSD and other similar drugs typically are put on blotter paper with, supposedly, one drop per square. It goes onto a perforated 8 1/2-by-11 sheet, with each square smaller than a postage stamp. An extra drop can be deposited accidentally, Shroba said.
Because the drugs can have a delayed effect, he said, someone might be tempted to take multiple doses.
What’s hazardous about LSD is that the skin can easily absorb it. Once a square sticks to someone’s tongue or touches their fingers, Shroba said, “it’s in your system. So once you put two drops on, buckle up. You could be in for a traumatic – and deadly – experience.”
While LSD has been around for decades, N-Bom was developed in 2003 as a research drug and had almost no history of human use until 2010 when it became available online, according to the DEA.
Unlike with LSD, the N-Bom raw material is a chemical that comes as a liquid from Asia, mainly China, Shroba said. The liquid might get smuggled in a 55-gallon drum hidden among legitimate goods. From the port of entry, someone distributes it in smaller quantities to distributors who place it on blotter paper, drop by drop.
A user pays $5 to $10 per square, he said.
Augusta Public Safety Director Tyler Brewer said he learned in the early 1980s the hazards of LSD. He worked undercover for the Wichita Police Department, buying sizable quantities of the drug.
“I remember once I bought 50 hits of LSD, and the person who sold it to me told me not to touch it with my hands.” When investigators had to handle the evidence, they used latex gloves and face masks so they wouldn’t absorb the chemicals through their fingers or inhale the fumes.
These days, around Augusta, investigators haven’t noticed the drug, Brewer said.
“We have not seen it,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean it’s not here.”