Drugs and Society – “Date Rape” Drugs

Men have long used alcohol to reduce women’s sexual inhibitions, thereby making them more willing sexual partners. However, in recent years a much more insidious phenomenon has emerged: the-use of drugs that render a woman completely unconscious, after which she is raped by the perpetrator. Unlike the situation with alcohol, in which the woman knows she is drinking, these other substances are put clandestinely in the victim’s drink so that she isn’t even aware that anything is amiss until she wakes up hours later in the man’s bed.

Drugs are sometimes used in this way on a date, hence the term “date rape” drugs. However, there have also been instances in which a woman was raped by a total stranger after being given one of these substances.

Two compounds that are reportedly being used in this manner are GHB and a benzodiazepine called flunitrazepam (trade name Rohypnol). Rohypnol is a powerful sleep-inducing agent that is used medicinally in Europe and Mexico but is not currently approved for sale in the United States. Nevertheless, it is readily available illicitly under street names like”roofies,”"rophies,”or “roche”(the drug is manufactured by the Hoffmann-La Roche pharmaceutical company).

Besides inducing sleep, Rohypnol may also cause anterograde amnesia, which means a lack of memory for events that occur while the recipient is under the influence of the drug.This can make it more difficult for prosecutors to prove a rape charge when Rohypnol is involved.

At the present time, government agencies do not have adequate data on the incidence of drug-facilitated sexual assaults or rapes. It appears, however, that such assaults have been on the rise in recent years. In response, Congress passed the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act in 1996, which instituted tough penalties for the possession or sale of flunitrazepam. Similar legislation relating to GHB was put into place in 2000. There have also been attempts by the private sector to increase the detectability of potential date rape drugs by women. For example, Hoffmann-La Roche has replaced its old Rohypnol formulation, which was colorless when dissolved in an alcoholic beverage, with a new tablet that turns blue when dissolved. Unfortunately, some of the older tablets are still available on the street. Moreover, perpetrators may attempt to disguise the telltale blue tint emanating from the newer tablet by ordering a similarly colored tropical drink for their date.

Another commercial approach to preventing drug-facilitated rape is the marketing of coasters designed to test one’s drink for possible date-rape drugs.The first such device is called the Drink Safe Coaster, which is made by Drink Safe Technologies.The Drink Safe Coaster is designed to detect both GHB and ketamine, which has also been used as a date- rape drug.The coaster does not test forflunitrazepam (Rohypnol), although Drink Safe Technologies has stated that they omitted this test because the current incidence of flunitrazepam-related date rapes is low compared to the incidence of date rapes in which the victim is drugged with GHB or ketamine.

Each Drink Safe Coaster contains two pairs of test circles located at the bottom corners of the card. If the coaster is being distributed by a bar or club, it may also include some type of advertisement or logo that has been selected by the proprietor of the establishment.The woman is instructed to place a drop or two of her drink on one of the pairs of test circles and wait for about one minute. A positive test is indicated by either circle turning a darker blue color, which is interpreted as a drug-contaminated drink. It is important to note that the use of the Drink Safe Coaster is not recommended for highly acidic beverages such as drinks containing large amounts of fruit juice.

There are other limitations as well.The color change could be masked by the drink itself, (for example, red wine), or the bar or club could be so dark that confirming a modest color change would be difficult. Therefore, even though test coasters may help prevent some date rapes, women should remain alert for potential adulteration of their drinks even when such coasters are available and seem to indicate that everything is normal.

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