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Thursday, May 20, 1999 Published at 17:38 GMT 18:38 UK


Rohypnol: The date rape drug

The drug is available on private prescription in the UK

Rohypnol, found in the luggage of serial rapist Richard Baker, is a legitimate drug abused for more sinister purposes.

It has been implicated in several date rape cases in the US, although there is no confirmed case of it being used in sexual assualt cases in the UK.

It is the brand name of flunitrazepam, and is a part of the Valium family. It is 10 times more potent.

The drug is not legally available in the US, but is in Europe and Mexico. In the UK it is only available on prescription, and it is illegal to possess it without one.

It can only be prescribed privately in the UK.

It rose to prominence as the date rape drug because it was colourless, odourless and tasteless - ideal for spiking drinks undetected - and causes sedation or euphoria in approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

Several cases report the drug being given to women without their consent in order to remove their inhibitions.

However, Hoffman-Roche, the company that manufactures the drug, revised the formula in January 1998 to make it easier to detect.

It now contains a blue dye that will appear when it is added to any drink, and it is slower to dissolve.

Counterfeit versions of the drug have been reported in the US which do not have these added features.

How is the drug used?

The drug has a number of legal and illegal uses.

Ravers use the drug because of the its euphoric and relaxing effects. The effects last for about eight hours.

Street names for Rohypnol include rophies, ropies, ruffies, roofies, roche, R-2, mexican valium, rib, and rope.

Users report mixing it with beer to enhance the feeling of drunkenness, and it has been reported to be used in combination with marijuana and cocaine, as well as heroin.

It is also used to ease the come down from a cocaine or crack binge, according to RaveSafe, a drugs information service.

However, it is the drug's use in date rape cases that has led to its notoriety.

When combined with alcohol, Rohypnol can make users shed their inhibitions. They can also suffer from loss of memory.

It has been labelled the date rapist's drug of choice.

How can I tell if my drink is spiked?

Post-January 1998 Rohypnol from Roche should turn the drink blue and leave a residue on the surface.

Counterfeit products present more difficulty. A report in the Academic Emergency Medicine journal offers little hope of detection.

It says: "Flunitrazepam readily dissolves, and once in solution, is colourless, odourless, and tasteless.

"The predominant clinical manifestations are drowsiness, impaired motor skills, and anterograde amnesia."

The best advice to avoid being spiked is to trust no one.

Counsellors say anyone who feels at risk should never accept any opened drink, particularly not from a stranger.

Tamper-proof bottles or cans are recommended. They should not be opened by someone else.

Will I know if I've been spiked?

Unless you spotted the drug in the drink, not immediately. Amnesia can set in within 10 minutes, and the disinhibiting effects of the drug kick in soon after.

Someone who has taken the drug unwittingly is unlikely to remember what happened while they were under the influence.

The journal report continues: "Due to the amnestic effects of flunitrazepam, historical clues of the rape event are difficult to obtain.

"Patients with a complaint of sexual assault who appear intoxicated or have anterograde amnesia should be suspected of unknowingly ingesting flunitrazepam."

It also recommends doctors perform a urine test specifically for the drug. Such a test is available from Roche.

Once spiked, can I counter the drug's effects?

There is an agent that reverses the effects of Rohypnol.

It is a benzodiazepine antagonist called Romazicon, and is used for reversing the severe effects of overdose.

However, it ought to be administered by a doctor and if it does not work on a low dosage is unlikely to have an effect with continued use.

Are there other date rape drugs

Another drug, gamma-hydroxybutryate (GHB) is also reported to have been used to incapacitate victims in order to sexually abuse them.

GHB is also known as liquid X or g-juice, and was once sold in health food stores to bodybuilders. It was pulled off the market in 1990 because of its bad side effects.

The effects of GHB are similar to those of Rohypnol - dizziness, confusion and memory loss. It is colourless and odourless. It is most commonly found in liquid form.

However, a US study in 1997 showed that alcohol remains the substance most frequently associated with substance-assisted sexual assault.

This page contains basic information. If you are concerned about your health, you should consult a doctor.

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