Rohypnol The Date Rape Drug

NUNM students have many opportunities to explore topics, research and areas of practice that interest them. From broad elective choices to research study participation and self study, our students choose the doctor they want to become. Christina Baghdanov, naturopathic doctoral student, shares her research on Rhypnol, and what to do if you or someone you know becomes roofied. 

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Rohypnol is the brand name of the generic drug flunitrazepam.[1] It is in the class of drugs called benzodiazepines, which also includes diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and lorazepam (Ativan).[1] Benzodiazepines are very strong sedatives and muscle relaxers. Drugs in this class are typically used to treat anxiety, seizures, and insomnia.[1] When used therapeutically, these drugs can be very beneficial for those in need of their effects. Rohypnol is one of the strongest: it is touted to have 10 times the effect of Valium, a potent muscle relaxer.[1] Because of its very strong effects it is often prescribed to treat insomnia and is used as a pre-medication before surgery.[2] For these purposes it is available in over 60 countries, including Mexico.[1] However, in the United States it is a Schedule IV illegal substance.[3] Because of its very strong effects, Rohypnol has become a drug of abuse and is more commonly known as “roofies.”

Rohypnol has several street names, including, but not limited to: ropies, rope, roopies, roaches, Mexican Valium, circles, forget-me pill, but is probably most commonly known as “roofies,” or “the date rape drug”.[4][5] The effects of Rohypnol come on suddenly, usually within 15-20 minutes after ingestion, and the effects can last 4-6 hours, or up to 12 hours or more.[1] The duration is largely dependent on the individual’s metabolism and ability to process the drug. The effects of Rohypnol are very strong. Under a heavy dose, the muscle relaxation effects can cause an individual to lose their ability to walk, to talk, and even to remain standing.[6] Under a light dose it produces an effect of being highly intoxicated or may increase the intoxication of other drugs, such as alcohol.[7] Some individuals will even become argumentative and violent.[7] It also usually causes partial retrograde amnesia, so almost all individuals will experience some memory loss of their time under the influence of this drug.[6][7] When used with malicious intent, Rohypnol is often added to alcoholic beverages to discretely “dose” an unsuspecting victim. The drug is easily dissolvable in liquids, and once dissolved it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless.[6] Thus, many victims are unaware that they have ingested a drug with such strong effects. When combined with alcohol, the effects of Rohypnol are even stronger.[8]

How do you tell if someone has been dosed with Rohypnol? A victim of “roofies” will, very suddenly, appear intoxicated out of proportion to the amount of alcohol ingested. Remember, the effects can come on in as little as 15 minutes. An individual may become very lethargic, lose their ability to walk or to talk, appear very confused, and may not understand what is happening to them.[1][9]

In many cases, the effects of Rohypnol will gradually wear off and the individual will return to their normal self within 24 hours. Many people will also experience severe gastrointestinal distress and vomiting for 12 hours or more.[10] However, because of its depressant properties, when Rohypnol is combined with other central nervous system depressants, like alcohol or some prescribed medications, the side effects can become life threatening.[9][11] Reports have been made of individuals experiencing decreased breathing and decreased heart rate under the influence of Rohypnol, but these reports are rare and are associated with high doses.[11]

So, what can you do to protect yourself? The mainstays of prevention are to always watch your drink; don’t walk away from your drink; don’t accept drinks from strangers; don’t partake in communal drinks; know what you’re drinking; and always check in with yourself.[15] If you feel intoxicated out of proportion to the amount of alcohol you have ingested, check in with yourself and seek help. Likewise, if you notice someone else who appears intoxicated out of proportion to the amount of alcohol they have ingested, consider that there may be other drugs besides alcohol at play.

If you suspect someone around you has ingested Rohypnol, the most important action is to get that person to a safe place and stay with them. If they were the target of a perpetrator, that person may still be in the area. Seek help from others around you and alert people you trust: if your friend has been dosed, they may become unable to walk or to talk and may need assistance. It is important to monitor their breathing and state of consciousness. If their breathing stops or they lose consciousness, call emergency services immediately. If you suspect an overdose of Rohypnol, alcohol, or another drug, take them to emergency services so they can be properly cared for.[16] If you suspect you have ingested Rohypnol, seek help from a friend and tell them the situation. If you are alone and can’t find anyone around you to offer assistance, call 911.

If you suspect you or someone you know has been dosed with Rohypnol, a urine test can confirm the presence of the drug. Its by-products remain detectable in urine for 72 hours after ingestion.[9] Specialized labs can conduct urine and hair tests, but home kits are available from a variety of merchants (including Amazon), and just require a simple urine sample.[12][13][14] Many of these kits will also test for other benzodiazepines, not just Rohypnol.

Several devices have been recently created that can detect the presence of Rohypnol in beverages. Devices such as cups, straws, and drink mixers, are in the process of research and development. At the time of this writing, however, most are unavailable to the general public as they are still being tested.[17] For the purpose of detecting Rohypnol, there is one product readily available today: it is called the SipChip, created by Undercover Colors.18 The SipChip works very similarly to an at-home pregnancy test. Place a drop of your drink onto the chip, and in as little as 30 seconds the chip will display one or two lines: one line means your drink is dangerous, two means it’s safe.[18] Undercover Colors claims that their tests have 99.1% accuracy rate.[18]

There is another device on the market that does not test for Rohypnol specifically, but does test for other date-rape drugs. Drink Safe Technologies produces a card that tests for γ-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) and Ketamine.[19] These two drugs are not discussed in this article but have also been implicated in sexual assault, and also have very strong disabling effects.[8] Whether you decide to begin testing your drinks, to use a buddy system, or to never leaving your drink alone, stay safe out there.

References

  1. Anderson L. Rohypnol. Drugs.com. https://www.drugs.com/illicit/rohypnol.html. Updated September 4, 2018. Accessed February 21, 2019.[1]
  2. Simmons MM, Cupp MJ. Use and abuse of flunitrazepam. Ann Pharmacother. 1998; 32(1): 117-119. doi:10.1345/aph.17027[2]
  3. Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault DEA Victim Witness Assistance Program. Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Congressional & Public Affairs, Community Outreach and Prevention Support Section, Victim Witness Assistance Program. http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/fed_regs/rules/2010/fr06293.htm. Published April 2017. Accessed February 27, 2019.[3]
  4. Rohypnol | Get Smart About Drugs. Get Smart about Drugs. https://www.getsmartaboutdrugs.gov/drugs/rohypnol. Updated February 10, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2019.[4]
  5. The truth about prescription drug abuse: Rohypnol. Foundation for a Drug-Free World. https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/prescription/rohypnol.html. Accessed February 25, 2019.[5]
  6. Anglin D, Spears KL, Hutson HR. Flunitrazepam and its involvement in date or acquaintance rape. Acad Emerg Med. 1997;4(4):323-326. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9107334.[6]
  7. Dåderman AM, Lidberg L. Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) abuse in combination with alcohol causes premeditated, grievous violence in male juvenile offenders. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 1999;27(1):83-99. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10212029.[7]
  8. Schwartz RH, Milteer R, LeBeau MA. Drug-facilitated sexual assault (‘date rape’). South Med J. 2000;93(6):558-561. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10881768.[8]
  9. Moses S. Rohypnol. Family Practice Notebook. https://fpnotebook.com/Psych/CD/Rhypnl.htm. Published 2019. Accessed February 26, 2019.[9]
  10. The Mild & Severe Side Effects of Rohypnol | Sunrise House. Sunrise House. https://sunrisehouse.com/club-drugs/rohypnol/. Accessed February 26, 2019.[10]
  11. HSDB: Flunitrazepam. Toxicology Data Network. National Insitutes of Health; U.S. National Library of Medicine.https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search2/r?dbs+hsdb:@term+@rn+@rel+1622-62-4. Published May 18, 2001. Updated June 17, 2013. Accessed February 25, 2019.[11]
  12. Rohypnol Home Drug Testing Kits. Test Yourself at Home. www.testyourselfathome.com/Dru_Rohypnol.htm. Accessed February 26, 2019.[12]
  13. Benzodiazepines Home Drug Test Kit. Test Clear. https://www.testclear.com/Benzodiazepine-Drug-Test-Kit-P48.aspx. Accessed February 26, 2019.[13]
  14. Single Panel Benzodiazepine Drug Test w/cassette (Benzo, Halcion, Librium, Rohypnol, Valium, Roofies, Tranks, Xanax) 10-Pack: Industrial & Scientific. Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Benzodiazepine-cassette-Halcion-Librium-Rohypnol/dp/B005K036TM. Accessed February 26, 2019.[14]
  15. Alcohol Safety. RAINN. https://www.rainn.org/articles/alcohol-safety. Accessed February 25, 2019.[15]
  16. Immediate sSteps to tTake if sSomeone wWas uUnwillingly gGiven GHB | Sunrise House. . Sunrise House. https://sunrisehouse.com/club-drugs/ghb-4-hydroxybutanoic-acid/. Accessed February 26, 2019.[16]
  17. Fox A. 5 Gadgets tThat aAlert dDrinkers to dDate rRape dDrugs. | EfficientGov. EfficientGov. https://efficientgov.com/blog/2017/05/22/5-date-rape-drug-detectors/. Published 2017. Accessed February 25, 2019.[17]
  18. SipChip – Undercover Colors. https://www.undercovercolors.com/. Accessed February 25, 2019.[18]
  19. Drink Safe Technology | Date Rape Prevention Drink Test Coasters. https://www.drinksafe.com/. Accessed February 27, 2019.[19]

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