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Merck Scientist Arrested And Jailed On Drug Charges

Drug Trafficking: Chemical engineer is charged with making party drug at home

by Marc S. Reisch
June 26, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 26

Credit: Union County Prosecutor’s Office
Mugshot of Kurt Romondt, Merck scientist, arrested for illegally synthesizing the drug gamma-hydroxybutyric acid.
Credit: Union County Prosecutor’s Office

Kurt Romondt, a chemical engineer who works for pharmaceutical firm Merck & Co., has been arrested and charged with making γ-hydroxybutyric acid, a party drug known as GHB, in his New Jersey home.

According to the prosecutor’s office for Union County, N.J., Romondt, 44, was arrested and jailed on June 18, after he received a delivery of γ-butyrolactone, an industrial solvent used to synthesize GHB. A search of his home turned up 300 mL of the drug and 2,745 g of its precursor along with a scale and materials to process the drug.

GHB is a controlled substance that can be used to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder, and alcohol addiction. With street names such as Fantasy and Liquid G, GHB has been used to produce euphoric effects since the 1990s. Large doses have a sedative effect, leading to the labeling of GHB as a date-rape drug.

The prosecutor’s office has charged Romondt with maintaining a controlled dangerous substance production facility and possession of GHB with intent to distribute. If convicted on all charges, Romondt faces up to 30 years in prison.

Romondt, who has a master’s degree in pharmaceutical engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology, has worked at Merck as a senior scientist for 16 years scaling up drug production. Merck says Romondt is on a leave of absence pending the result of the police investigation.

Although GHB hasn’t received a lot of attention in recent years, “it’s just like cocaine and hasn’t gone away,” says Trinka D. Porrata, president of Project GHB, a nonprofit group that educates the public about GHB abuse.

Bodybuilders use GHB because it is said to boost human growth hormone levels. Even seniors abuse the drug because of its reputed antiaging effect, says Porrata, who is a former Los Angeles Police Department narcotics squad supervisor.

Contributing to GHB’s continuing popularity, Porrata says, is that the drug is expensive to test for. Also, evidence of use “is gone from blood in four hours and from urine in 12 hours.”



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