Warning: Rohypnol, "The Date Rape Drug"

November 20, 2011

Anyone working with survivors of sexual assault, especially those who are college-aged or teenagers, should be aware of a new drug called Rohypnol. Rohypnol has been dubbed the "date rape drug" because of its use in sexual assaults.

Anyone working with survivors of sexual assault, especially those who are college-aged or teenagers, should be aware of a new drug called Rohypnol. Rohypnol has been dubbed the "date rape drug" because of its use in sexual assaults.

Rohypnol (chemical name Flunetrazepam) is the most rapidly spreading abused drug of choice for adolescents and young adults in certain parts of the country, especially Florida and Texas. It is known on the street as "roofies," "rope," "roopies," "the forget pill," and "roach." Since this past spring break, Rohypnol has been found in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Rohypnol is inexpensive, ranging from $2 to $3 per pill, and produces a high similar to a strong Quaalude. The drug is actually a sedative related to Valium, but 10 times stronger.. It is often combined with alcohol or other drugs for a quick high. Those who ingest it become extremely relaxed and can lose bodily control, maybe even stop breathing. They appear drunk. Sedation occurs after 10-20 minutes and its effects can last up to eight hours. Rohypnol can cause complete memory loss and blackouts.

Rohypnol is legally available in more then 60 countries for severe insomnia. It is used in Latin America to sedate surgical patients. U.S. bound travelers used to be permitted to bring a 3 month supply into the country. According to Newsweek, a University of Texas study recently found that 43% of people declaring prescription drugs at one Mexican border were importing roofies. Presumably, they weren't all insomniacs. Recently, the U.S. government banned importation of Rohypnol.

Rohypnol has been used in alcoholic drinks as a way to incapacitate potential victims of sexual assault. That's why it is also known as "the date rape drug." According to a February 26, 1996 Newsweek article, Broward County, Fla. Prosecutor Bob Nichols has said that one adult and three juveniles he has successfully prosecuted had knocked women out with roofies in rapes they committed. Such cases are hard to prosecute, Nichols said, since the woman can't usually remember any details of the crime.

Rohypnol can be detected through urine and blood tests, although testing may be expensive. This raises question about whether we should begin testing rape victims for the drug, particularly if they say they don't remember. Anyone who believes they have consumed Rohypnol should be driven to a hospital emergency room or should call 911 for an ambulance. Keep a sample of the alcohol for analysis, if you can. Other warnings include:

  • Do not leave drinks unattended.

  • Be careful who you accept a drink from.

  • At bars, only accept a drink from the bartender or wait staff.

  • At parties, do not accept open container drinks from anyone other than trusted friends.

  • Be alert to the behavior of friends. If someone appears much more drunk than they should be given the amount of alcohol consumed, be concerned.

Representative Gerald B. Solomon (NY) has introduced federal legislation which will implement severe mandatory minimum sentences for anyone convicted of distributing controlled substances with the intent of rendering the victim unconscious in order to commit sexual battery.

References:

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control, memo, July 31, 1995.

Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Coalition Commentary, Spring 1996.

Newsweek, February 26, 1996.

Virginians Aligned Against Sexual Assault, ADVOCATE, Volume 12, Number 4, article by Becky Wainright with Connie J. Kirkland.

[Updated information is available in the February 1997 issue of our newsletter.] Sharon Hunter is director of training and outreach for Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, Inc.