A well-known and well-liked member of West Hollywood’s gay community died of an apparent drug overdose in New York City on Monday, sparking a flurry of discussions in local gay circles and online about drug use among gay men.
Jovin Raethz, 37, of West Hollywood, a fitness trainer, was found in the 19th Street apartment in Chelsea of Shaun Murphy, 34, who also was dead. Investigators found GHB in the apartment.
GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid) is prescribed under the name Xyrem to treat sleep disorders and catalepsy. But it’s also notorious for its illegal use and the fact that it can have fatal consequences when used with alcohol or other drugs. At lower doses it has an effect similar to alcohol, making the user feel relaxed and sociable. But higher doses can cause vomiting, muscle spasms and loss of consciousness. When ingested with alcohol, it can slow down one’s breathing rate and quickly result in death.
In a report earlier this month the West Hollywood branch of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reported a significant increase in arrests for possession of GHB, heroin and cocaine in the last six months of last year. There were 36 arrests for possession of those drugs, with no breakdown as to individual drug, which was a 29 percent increase over the year before. Arrests for possession with intent to sell increased to eight from three in the same period the year before. The report also noted a major increase in arrests for possession of methamphetamine, also known as “tina” or “crystal.” There were 115 arrests for possession of the drug, a 13 percent increase over the same period the year before.
Both drugs are viewed as major issues in the gay male community, which makes up 40 percent of West Hollywood’s population. On Monday the West Hollywood City Council approved a proposal by Councilmember John Duran to allocate $5,000 to fund a campaign by the city’s Public Information Office and Social Services Department to raise awareness of the dangers of those drugs among West Hollywood residents. Duran produced three public forums on abuse of crystal meth in 2005 and 2005. “‘G’ has been the source of an incredible amount of social trauma and grief for our community for the past few years,” Duran said. “Meth will make you lose your teeth and your mind. G will stop your heart beat.”
Raethz’s death prompted posts on various social media sites from those who where his friends. One of the most moving is the memorial video, posted above, from YouTube.
The death of Raethz and Murphy attracted news coverage in New York City and in Europe because it occurred on the same day as the apparently unrelated death of Charlie Denihan, 28, a member of the family that owns the James and Affinia hotel groups, at his apartment on Union Square. Investigators found GHB in Denihan’s apartment. There is no other apparent connection between the deaths.
Raetz is a native of Faulkton, SD, where funeral arrangements are being made.